The Apple Watch is getting a new health-tracking feature that Fitbit quietly added to some products earlier this year, report says

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Crystal Cox/Business Insider

The Apple Watch Series 5

  • Apple is reportedly preparing to add a new feature to the Apple Watch that would measure blood-oxygen saturation levels, according to 9to5Mac.
  • Fitbit launched a similar feature for its Versa smartwatches and its Charge 3 wristband earlier this year.
  • If Apple does add such a capability to the Apple Watch, it would signal yet another move by the company to make its smartwatch a more comprehensive health-tracking tool.
  • Apple is also rumored to be developing sleep-tracking capabilities for the Apple Watch.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Apple Watch may soon be capable of measuring blood-oxygen levels, a feature that Fitbit rolled out to certain devices earlier this year, according to 9to5Mac. The blog said said it found references to this capability in the code for iOS 14, which is believed to be Apple's next major iPhone software update.

The feature would notify Apple Watch wearers when their blood-oxygen saturation falls below a certain level, the report says. It's unclear if this feature would require new hardware that may only be available in Apple's next smartwatch model, which is believed to be called the Apple Watch Series 6, or if it will be available for older editions as well. Blood-oxygen-level notifications will look similar to the heart-rate alerts currently found on the Apple Watch, according to 9to5Mac.

Low blood-oxygen levels could result in shortness of breath, headaches, restlessness, and confusion, according to the Mayo Clinic. Normal blood-oxygen readings when measured by a pulse oximeter - a small device that usually clips on to your finger - usually range between 95 to 100 percent, with values under 90 being low, says the Mayo Clinic.

Apple did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

If Apple does bring blood-oxygen monitoring to its smartwatches, it would come after Fitbit began rolling out such a feature to its Versa smartwatches and the Charge 3 wristband in January. While those devices always included hardware that supported this capability, the company only began activating the feature in early 2020 by introducing a graph in the app that shows wearers how the oxygen levels in a user's bloodstream vary during sleep. That information could be used to help users notice changes in breathing as they sleep.

Fitbit isn't the only wearable-gadget maker to support this feature; certain devices from Garmin and Withings can measure blood-oxygen saturation as well.

The ability to measure blood-oxygen saturation is one of several health-oriented additions rumored to be coming to the Apple Watch in the future. Apple is also reportedly planning to upgrade the ECG app so that the watch can provide better readings for heart rates that fall between 100 and 120 beats per minute, 9to5Mac also reported based on the code it reportedly discovered in iOS 14. Bloomberg has also reported that Apple is preparing to add sleep tracking to the Apple Watch, a feature that's notably missing from Apple's smartwatch in comparison with the competition.

Taken together, the introduction of features like blood-oxygen saturation monitoring and sleep tracking would further signal Apple's ambitions to become a major force in the health space. Apple CEO Tim Cook even said to CNBC last year that the company's "greatest contribution to mankind" will be "about heath." Adding such features to the Apple Watch represents another step in the direction of making its smartwatch a more capable and comprehensive health-monitoring device.

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