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Apple Watch health and fitness features likely at Tuesday’s event

Jeff Williams introduces the new Apple Watch, which is capable of taking an FDA-approved electrocardiogram at the company’s annual product launch on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California.

Karl Mondon | Digital first media | Getty Images

Apple’s invitation to a major event included the “Time Flies”

; tagline, a hint that we can expect to see a series of announcements related to the Apple Watch on Tuesday.

At least one analyst believes there will be a new model, the Apple Watch 6.

Health and fitness have been a major focus of the product ever since Apple began selling it in 2015. The team has rolled out feature after feature that has gone from basic activity tracking to heart rate monitoring and more.

But there are technical and scientific limitations to what can be packed in a wrist device. Some of the most challenging applications that have so far avoided portable manufacturers include non-invasive and continuous blood sugar as well as blood pressure tracking. If one of these sensors was announced, it would be a big breakthrough, but we do not expect it on Tuesday.

More likely, Apple will roll out some more achievable wins that will still put it ahead of the competition. Apple Watch has dominated the wearables market for the past five years, but Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit could give it an infusion of new talent and cash (if regulators approve the deal), and Amazon made a splashy entry into space earlier this year with its laptop Halo-fitness.

Training for everyone who is stuck at home

Members train inside Chelsea Piers Fitness, Manhattan’s largest gym on the first day of the reopening of gyms in New York City following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York, September 2, 2020.

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The wellness room is an attractive option for any consumer technology company because it is both a large market and largely unregulated. Apple’s growing team includes veteran trainer and consultant Jay Blahnik, who is likely to have big plans for the Apple Watch.

In March, CNBC reported that Apple is working on a new app codenamed Seymour that guides users through workout routines on the Apple Watch and iPhone. Users can follow via downloadable videos and try a range of activities from cycling to strength training. By offering this kind of fitness content, Apple is moving closer to Peloton’s territory. Along with its spin bikes and treadmills, Peloton sells a subscription-based video library with fitness classes.

That would be a timely step for Apple, as many gyms across the country remain closed, and home training may still seem like a safer option during a pandemic.

Then we could see Apple offering more tailored training programs to people with medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, which may even involve personal coaching. Such a service may be subscription-based if Apple can demonstrate that there is an appetite for it.

An oxygen sensor

A long-rumored sensor that we could see from Apple on Tuesday is a pulse oximeter that allows the watch to detect oxygen levels in the blood. A blood-oxygen detection feature was discovered by 9to5 Mac in a snippet of code back in the spring, strongly suggesting it’s on the horizon.

If the code is an indication, Apple may start notifying users if their blood oxygen levels drop to alarming and potentially dangerous levels.

This new feature is likely to be released along with medical studies, just as Apple has done in the past. The Apple Heart Study, which it unveiled in collaboration with Stanford, examined how effectively the Apple Watch could be used to detect a condition known as atrial fibrillation. Apple has an electrocardiogram sensor baked into its Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5 devices to monitor heart rate and return health information directly to consumers.

If Apple announces the sensor, it is possible that the company appears to be screening asymptomatic people instead of refining them with a specific medical condition. Apple wants its device to be accessible and relevant to a large population of users. But it becomes necessary to prove to the doctors that it does not generate unnecessary anxiety and worry by delivering false positive results.

Or Apple may appear to target users with specific medical conditions, including covid-19 coronavirus. A pulse oximeter baked in a portable consumer may well be useful in helping physicians monitor patients at home who have been diagnosed with the virus. Physicians are still debating whether the currently available devices that work by cutting a patient’s finger to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation can be helpful in monitoring shortness of breath, which can be difficult for patients to assess themselves.

What do you think will be announced at Tuesday’s event? Tell us @CNBCTech.

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