The Apple Watch can already spot when you take a hard fall and don’t get up, then alert the emergency service, but now, Apple wants to extend this feature to work in water too, potentially raising the alarm if the Watch thinks you might be in dangerous water, or at risk of drowning.
This is the claim of a patent filed by Apple back in 2016, but only made public in April 2020. Titled ‘Portable electronic device as health companion,’ the document doesn’t mention the Apple Watch by name, but does refer to a “wearable consumer electronic product”.
The patent then goes on to describe how the device would recognise when the device is wet. It would then determine how wet - is this rainfall, or has the wearer fallen overboard? - and even take a sample of the water to work out salt content. This would help it decide whether it is being exposed to water in a swimming pool, lake or river, or the open sea.
Next, the device uses “other sensors” to try and determine if the water could “potentially have a substantial impact on the health of the user or the enjoyment of an activity by the user.” Further sensors would check for dangerous pathogens and chemicals, then issue a warning.
This could mean a future Watch feature that warns you if you go for a swim in dangerously contaminated water.
After that, the patent describes how the device can use its GPS coordinates to work out what body of water the user is in, and consult your calendar to see if you are expected to be swimming (or perhaps travelling by boat) at this time. Finally, after all of these tests, the Watch may determine that its owner is in trouble, and could raise the alarm in a similar way to how Fall Detection works today.
The patent also suggests how the saltwater sensor could be used to monitor the wearer’s sweat, thus providing “insight into a general condition of the individual’s current state of health.”
While Apple appears to have been working on this technology since at least 2016, it is unlikely that the feature will arrive on the Watch Series 6, which is due to launch this September. Instead, we would expect to see the technology outlined by this patent arrive later, potentially on the Series 7 in 2021.
As ever, we should add the caveat that technology companies file patents on a regular basis, and while these provide an interesting look at their plans for the future, it doesn’t mean the tech described by them will launch as described, or even see the light of day.