Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is reportedly working on a top secret project that would incorporate blood glucose monitoring technology for the Apple Watch. The ability to check and monitor blood sugar levels without the need to use a needle to physically draw blood would be a medical game changer.
An Apple Watch for diabetics would also make AAPL’s wearable a must-have for hundreds of millions of people.
Diabetes: A Big Problem That’s Getting Bigger
Diabetes is a chronic disease that’s on the upswing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), modern lifestyles with relatively little activity and increasing body weight is to blame for the majority of cases of Type 2 Diabetes — the most common version. The number of people affected is rapidly growing, with WHO reporting the 108 million cases globally rose to 422 million by 2014.
Managing diabetes requires regular monitoring of blood glucose levels throughout the day, which means using a needle to prick a finger for blood needed for testing. That also means buying a blood testing monitor and ongoing purchases of testing strips.
Few people like being pricked with a needle multiple times every day.
An Apple Watch for Diabetics would upend the entire blood glucose monitoring process, making it easier, far less invasive and eliminating the ongoing cost of supplies.
The Team Working on an Apple Watch for Diabetics
CNBC broke the news that AAPL has a secret team working to develop sensors that can continuously monitor blood sugar levels –without having to draw blood. The project is focused on optical sensors that would shine through the skin to measure blood glucose levels. This sensor would be integrated into the bottom of the Apple Watch — in a similar fashion to the current model’s optical heart rate sensor.
The resulting Apple Watch for diabetics would have the potential to be a game-changer in how the disease is managed.
According to CNBC’s sources, this project isn’t pie in the sky. In the past year, AAPL has reportedly been adding biomedical experts from medical corporations to the initial team of 30 engineers. It is conducting trials at clinical sites in the San Francisco area, and has hired consultants to work on the regulatory requirements.
What This Could Mean for Apple Watch Sales
The impact of integrated blood glucose monitoring on Apple Watch sales would be huge. The Centers for Disease Control says that in 2016, 29 million Americans had diabetes and 86 million were pre-diabetic.
No one enjoys needles, and while an Apple Watch for diabetics wouldn’t eliminate the need for insulin shots, it would eliminate the finger pricking to draw blood for testing multiple times per day. It also would eliminate the need to carry around the blood glucose testing kit and the ongoing purchase of testing strips.
Constant blood glucose monitoring could also help those 86 million Americans realize they are pre-diabetic and help them to manage their lifestyle to prevent the onset of full-blown diabetes.
There Are Hurdles
The biggest issue facing Apple — aside from actually developing a reliable blood glucose sensor– is regulatory. Apple has been able to get away with the Apple Watch heart rate sensor because it does not market its wearable as a medical device. But this move would bring the Apple Watch under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation.
That in turn could disrupt release cycles, as AAPL would likely need FDA approval before making any changes.
Naturally, there is competition. After all, diabetes management is a hugely profitable target. Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has been working on a smart contact lens project since 2014. This involves embedded glucose sensors, but has yet to result in a commercial product.
Apple Watch sales have been fine, but not spectacular. The company remains firmly in the lead for smartwatch sales, and has made concerted effort to steer its wearable more into health and fitness territory, with a resulting sales bump — in Q4 2016 it sold a record 4.6 million units.
But add constant blood glucose monitoring making it an Apple Watch for diabetics and for the tens of millions of Americans who are concerned about monitoring their health for signs of diabetes onset?
That could be the feature that finally turns Apple Watch into a “must-have” device, with hundreds of millions of people globally who would suddenly have a real reason to want to buy one.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.