Now, I’m not saying Apple wasn’t working on an ECG sensor long before AliveCor brought the medical-grade tech to the wrist, but I do hope history remembers the latter as being the one who got there first.
It was one of the first examples of how serious health monitoring could be more than just a bit part of the smartwatch experience. It showed us that the Apple Watch wasn’t simply a mirror of our smartphone or a replacement for our fitness tracker or sports watch. These devices were now capable of telling us information that could end up saving our lives.
Essential reading: A guide to the Apple Watch heart rate monitor
We first came across AliveCor back in 2016, a startup that had former Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra as its CEO. Its Kardia Band was one you could swap onto an Apple Watch, and which would place an ECG on your wrist. It could quickly identify abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). It also had the potential to detect issues like palpitations, shortness of breath and irregular heart rate, which could increase the risk of a stroke.
The FDA, the regulatory gateway for companies who want to sell their technology for medical uses, clearly felt that AliveCor had created something groundbreaking. It can be lengthy process getting approved, but the startup got the thumbs up and became the first Apple Watch accessory to get FDA clearance.
Kardia Band was a gateway to creating greater discussions about health tech and heart health
It also opened our eyes to the concept of what smart Apple Watch bands could be and do. Apple itself hasn’t dipped its toes into making its bands more connected, though the topic and the idea always surfaces with every rumored new Apple Watch. AliveCor remains one of the very few that actually made a smart Watch band that gave you a compelling reason to own it.
Then, on the 12 September 2018, Apple revealed it had managed to put an ECG into its Watch. I imagine there and then the team behind the Kardia Band realised it was game over for its own ECG-packing smartwatch band. Eight months later from that Series 4 announcement and the Band has vanished from AliveCor’s website. It’s now confirmed it’s focusing on the other innovations it’s been working on.
We’ve got used to seeing wearable tech startups come and go. They innovate, struggle to keep that innovation alive and ultimately fall to the wayside. But it doesn’t feel like that with AliveCor. Its Kardia Band was a gateway to greater discussions about health tech and heart health outside of the medical realms. It brought a feature to the Apple Watch that Apple itself decided to introduce, which goes some way to validating what it was striving to do.
It clearly won’t detract from the work it continues to do and it may choose to utilise Apple’s own ECG tech to continue that work. Like its study with the Mayo Clinic to see how ECG can be used to non-invasively detect high potassium levels in your blood, a condition known as hyperkalemia. AliveCor can be proud of the work its done to shine a light on wearables, specifically smartwatches, and why they have shaken off that gimmick status.