UWB and the Future of Health
The Apple event two weeks ago was pretty spectacular (even for us, and we’ve live-tweeted a LOT of Apple events). Not only did they announce the release of iPhone 11 (with its kinda silly, fashion colors) but they also unveiled the iPhone 11 Pro (for…professional phone users?), which we freely admit we’re willing to drop a grand for, and comes in a weird and beautiful dystopian green with a perplexing lens configuration.
One thing they didn’t mention but we’re sure excited about, is Ultra Wide Band technology. We’ve watched Apple struggle a bit with being first out of the gate, after years of leadership, but the iPhone 11 is the first phone in the world to ship with UWB.
Nope, it’s not a big and tall men’s belt store (it was actually a struggle shoehorning that joke in); it’s a wireless, short-range communication protocol. And if you’re wondering what THAT is, you already know one — Bluetooth. Like Bluetooth, UWB transmits data across short distances (from phone to phone, for instance) but unlike Bluetooth, it broadcasts with very little interference and operates on almost no power. Hopefully it actually works reliably (unlike Bluetooth).
We’re better at snarky jokes than detailed explanations, so you should watch this incredibly helpful video if you’d like to know more about how UWB works.
Now, UWB technology isn’t new at all. It’s been around for decades. But this is the first wide, commercial application we’ve seen. So what does it mean for you? Well, it’s way more precise in location tracking than Bluetooth. So rather than “your keys are in the kitchen” it’s “for some reason you put your keys in the freezer when you got out that ice cream you’re not supposed to be eating.”
This opens the door for far more advanced and more effective IoT tech. UWB can detect location to within a staggering 10 centimeters, increasing security by enforcing proximity to other devices you’re trying to access and eventually, better augmented reality and even indoor navigation.
UWB is finally having its day. It’s the next big thing, and we are here for it.
An apple a day…
The other big Apple announcement (and arguably the one with the most far-reaching implications) that took our breath away was the announcement of three amazing health studies. Years ago we wrote a blog post on the future of Apple’s contributions to the understanding of the human body, and it’s playing out just as we’d hoped (if we do say so ourselves).
The Apple Watch is unique among consumer devices because it affords researchers insight not only into consumers’ habits and tastes, but their bodies as well. Apple is taking full advantage of this with studies on heart health, women’s health, even hearing.
Partnering with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Apple has created the first long-term study of this scale focused on women’s health — specifically, on menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions. The data will inform screening and risk assessment of conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy, and menopause.
Women’s health is not only poorly understood, but grossly under-represented in medical research, and this data will be invaluable in helping doctors care for women’s bodies.
Second, they’re partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (another Boston institution) and the American Heart Association on a groundbreaking and comprehensive study of how heart rate and mobility (like the pace of a walk or the number of stairs climbed) relate to hospitalizations, falls, heart health, and quality of life in order to promote healthy movement and improved cardiovascular health.
Since 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States are due to heart disease, the importance of this research is clear.
Third, the Apple Hearing Health Study is the first of its kind to collect data over time. Working with the University of Michigan, Apple will examine how everyday sound exposure can progressively impact hearing. The study data will also be shared with the World Health Organization (WHO).
If you think about the ask, wearing a device to measure decibel levels for years is a complete non-starter. But the beauty of the Apple Watch is that you’re already using it. It requires nothing on your part but opting in to contribute to studies that could change lives.
What makes these studies so important isn’t just the sheer number of people available to participate (around 26 million Americans own an Apple Watch and a mind-blowing 400,000 people participated in the last heart study) but the way it removes the usual impediments to participating in medical studies. The Watch is the great equalizer, and wherever you live and whatever your habits, you can put your arm up and be counted. And, in turn, help someone else down the road.
We’re so excited about these, and you should be, too. What good is technology if you don’t use it to better humanity? (if you’re a super-villain, don’t answer that one.)