Apple Watch Series 6 now measures blood oxygen, but it's not a medical device

The Apple Watch Series 6 comes with a new health sensor targeted for the coronavirus era.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
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Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
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Ian Sherr
2 min read

Apple has integrated new technology into its Series 6 Watch that lets people measure their blood oxygen.


The new Series 6 Apple Watch, unveiled Tuesday, can measure people's blood oxygen levels in 15 seconds, Apple claims. Blood oxygen levels are an indicator of the severity of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"With Apple Watch Series 6, you can measure your blood oxygen right from your wrist," Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said on Tuesday.

The announcement came during Apple's annual fall event, where it typically unveils new iPhones, iPads and other tech gadgets to a crowded auditorium. This year the company hosted a virtual event because of the pandemic.

The Apple Watch has added a string of new features since its original launch in 2015, when it was touted as a luxury item that even included in its lineup a $10,000 gold variant called the Apple Watch Edition. Over the last few years, Apple has leaned into the Watch being a health device people can use to track their daily activity. Along with step-tracking, Apple's health-related features include an ECG heart monitor, sync technology for gym equipment and a meditation app

Apple Watch's blood oxygen reader, often referred to as an oximeter, can measure blood oxygen levels on command. It also does periodic background readings, which are stored in a user's health app. Williams said this is important so that people can get readings while they're asleep. 

Along with helping COVID-19 patients determine how sick they may be, oximeters are also useful for people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

Blood oxygen levels are generally measured using a pulse oximeter on the tip of the finger, and to do this on the wrist Apple had to add new hardware to the Watch -- making the feature a Series 6 exclusive. Apple said it's working with several health care providers and universities to study how blood oxygen levels measured by the Watch can be used in future health applications.

"Apple Watch revolutionized what a watch can do," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during Tuesday's event. "We feel a deep responsibility to keep innovating."

Watch this: Apple Watch Series 6 adds blood oximeter