Smartwatches have added incredibly sophisticated health features in recent years, with the ability to take electrocardiograms to diagnose atrial fibrillation and monitor your blood oxygen levels. But if rumors are to be believed, the next iteration of Samsung’s Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch Series 7 could attempt the holy grail of health tools: non-invasive blood glucose monitoring.
The report comes from ETNews, which claims Samsung plans to launch the feature in the second half of this year with a so-called Galaxy Watch 4, or possibly a Galaxy Watch Active 3. Meanwhile, the publication also claims Apple is also supposedly gearing up to introduce the feature on the Series 7 and has “secured” the necessary patents. In both cases, the glucose-monitoring will purportedly be done via a non-invasive optical sensor.
This is a classic case of “big if true.” That said, this isn’t out of the realm of possibility. In 2020, Samsung did team up with MIT to develop a non-invasive method for blood glucose-monitoring utilizing Raman spectroscopy and presented their findings in Science Advances. As for Apple, blood glucose-monitoring rumors have floated around for a while. Back in 2017, CNBC reported the company had a “secret group” of biomedical engineers working on a project to develop non-invasive sensors that could monitor blood sugar levels. The initiative was said to be started by Steve Jobs, and at that time, had progressed to clinical trials in the Bay Area. According to MacRumors, around that time Apple CEO Tim Cook was also spotted wearing a potential prototype glucose monitor connected to his Apple Watch.
At CES 2021, one wearable that also stood out was—you guessed it—a non-invasive blood glucose-monitoring smartwatch from Japanese startup Quantum Operation. That prototype supposedly was capable of measuring blood glucose in real-time via the wrist, and also utilized “patented spectrum sensing technology.”
So while it’s likely that we might see non-invasive glucose-monitoring somewhere down the line, it’s also a good idea to be a bit skeptical about timing. This tech would obviously be a boon to diabetics, who have to prick their skin several times a day for blood sugar readings. It would be a game-changer—but only if it’s exceptionally accurate, with a low margin of error, and approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies for consumer use. The ETNews report claims that Apple is “focusing on securing reliability and stability prior to the commercialization of this technology,” but this particular stage could last anywhere from several months to several years.
The FDA would have to sign off on any blood glucose-monitoring smartwatch feature, which can be a long process. Even if the ETNews report is 100% true, there’s no telling whether FDA approvals would be secured by either Samsung or Apple by late summer or fall, when the companies have historically released new smartwatches. And, if the tech never reaches a reliable degree of accuracy, it’s possible it never makes its way to wrists at all.
Right now, it’s too early to make a call on whether blood glucose-monitoring will make an appearance on both next-gen Samsung and Apple smartwatches. After all, no one was expecting FDA-cleared ECGs with the Series 4. But if either company managed to pull this off in 2021? That would be the most massive update to any smartwatch we’ve seen yet.