There's some interesting snippets in the updated code for Garmin's Connect IQ app: new data strings reveal support for setting an aerobic swimming threshold and something even bigger in the form of blood glucose monitoring. If Garmin's preparing to bring the feature to its Forerunners and future models of other smart watches such as the Garmin Venu 2 that could be a huge deal: blood glucose levels are useful indicators of general health, and they're crucial for the millions of people living with diabetes.
Blood glucose monitoring has been a tough nut for tech firms to crack. It's rumoured to be coming to the Apple Watch Series 8, but then it was rumoured to be coming to the Apple Watch Series 7 and the Apple Watch Series 6 too; the most recent Apple Watch Series 8 rumours suggest that the feature has been put back again to 2024. So it seems likely that Garmin can steal a march on its biggest rival with its next generation of the best smartwatches for runners and other fitness fans.
Why is glucose monitoring so difficult?
The problem with smartwatch blood glucose monitoring is that it's non-invasive: unlike traditional monitoring there's no needle sticking into your skin or sensor embedded just under it. Non-invasive monitoring can't analyse your blood directly; instead, it uses similar optical technology to the way it monitors blood oxygen and heart rate by shining infra-red light against your skin and analysing what happens to it.
By its very nature this kind of monitoring is much less accurate than conventional methods, but it's also a lot less intrusive and could be a big upgrade for people currently using skin-prick tests to track their glucose levels.
There's another challenge, and that's the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US insurance industry. For medical insurers to approve a device it needs to be FDA-approved; in order to get FDA approval the monitoring needs to meet strict quality standards. The approval process can also be very slow. Some firms have tried to get round this with other sensors by launching them with explicit disclaimers that they're not medical devices, applying for FDA approval retrospectively later on, but with something as crucial as diabetics' blood glucose levels that may be a risky tactic to take: I think most people would assume that if a smartwatch includes a health sensor, it'll be accurate.
I hope Garmin, Apple and other smartwatch firms do find a way to crack this: diabetes is affecting ever more people and technology could make their lives easier and safer. I can't wait to see what Garmin's come up with.