How the Galaxy Watch 5 Takes Health Tracking to the Next Level

How the Galaxy Watch 5 Takes Health Tracking to the Next Level

In its unpacked event Earlier this month, Samsung introduced its new galaxy 5 clock, which offers several small design tweaks and a big new health-tracking feature: measuring changes in skin temperature. Only time will tell if it ends up being a cool feature or just a gimmick.

For now, we can only look at its potential.

At first glance, skin temperature tracking may not seem as useful as previous smartwatch additions, such as sleep tracking, ECG features that keep an eye on heart arrhythmias, or blood oxygen monitoring to detect abnormalities. sleep apnea. It’s not even clear what changes in skin temperature actually mean. During Unpacked, Samsung vaguely hinted that they could indicate possible illnesses or other conditions.

Welcome to the progressive feature race among wearables, where manufacturers jump into a new capacity in hopes of proclaiming that their product is superior to the competition and therefore the healthier option. Since Apple has cemented a massive lead in smartwatches, companies like Samsung have to go the extra mile to convince you that their wearables are worth a second look.

But compared to changes in heart rate or sleep, it’s less obvious how skin temperature translates to health. Unlike core temperature, a variety of factors such as outside heat, exercise, diet, and menstrual cycles can also affect skin temperature, so wearables rely on other sensors to account for things happening outside your body to isolate the changes happening inside your body.

To benefit from skin temperature monitoring, readings must be taken over time to establish a baseline, said Ramón Llamas, director of research at analyst firm IDC. If you normally trend at 96.9 degrees Fahrenheit and rise up to 99.1 over a long period of time, you may have something. A smartwatch like the Galaxy Watch 5 could combine those skin temperature readings with heart rate, respiration, sleep tracking, blood oxygen levels, and other metrics for a comprehensive report on your health.

“Now we have a clearer reading that can tell us if he is really sick or if it could be something temporary,” Llamas said.

The Galaxy Watch 5 isn’t the first wearable to track changes in skin temperature. Oura Ring monitors skin temperature and reveals the findings through its paired app, while the latest Fitbit Sense is a wearable device that displays temperature changes on its screen.

While Samsung has been coy about what other ways its watch could use skin temperature, it invited app developers to innovate their own ways to take advantage of the feature. But the company could learn from what other wearable devices have done with skin temperature tracking for years.

Oura Ring Gen 3

Oura Ring, a wearable device with internal sensors that track health conditions.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Oura came first

The Oura Ring wearable device has had skin temperature tracking as a feature for years. It was initially included to increase sleep tracking, as skin temperature changes can show when users drift in and out of different stages of sleep, said Caroline Kryder, Oura’s product marketing manager. Skin temperature is one of several metrics that feed into a “readiness score.” If the score is lower than normal, you may be sick.

“It warns you, hey, your temperature seems higher than normal and your heart rate is higher than normal, these are common signs of stress and you may have something,” Kryder said.

Oura has developed new ways to analyze the health data taken by the Ring wearable device in the years since its launch. Early in the pandemic, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco monitored Ring users to see if finger-based wearables could detect COVID infections, publishing a paper in late 2020 showing the potential for tracking COVID infections by looking at changes in skin temperature for fever. NBA teams outfitted players with Oura rings for the same reason.

Two years later, despite ongoing research, wearable devices are unable to fully detect COVID. Instead, Kryder noted, users can see irregularities in health metrics like skin temperature, heart rate, or blood oxygen ratings and then talk to their doctor if they portend a COVID infection.

But other partnerships have brought new ways to use Oura Rings, including combining with the FDA-approved Natural Cycles app to determine daily fertility using the wearable device to analyze skin temperature and other factors.

It is these apps that pave the way for the Galaxy Watch 5.

Making progress on the COVID front

Oura wasn’t the only one looking to tackle COVID. Swarup Bhunia, professor and director of the Warren B. Nelms Institute for the Connected World at the University of Florida, worked with a team of academics to develop an affordable wearable device that measures skin temperature to predict COVID infection even when the user is asymptomatic. .

Bhunia and her team did not test the wearable prototype on people with COVID directly. Instead, they used data from multiple doctors on skin temperature variations of COVID patients, described in a paper published in IEEE in January, and built models to detect those variations on their wearable device.

“That was giving us the confidence that [our wearable] can detect COVID for people who don’t have observable symptoms,” Bhunia said.

The Bhunia team of researchers is looking to turn their prototype into a production-ready wearable device for public use. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, it will be very cheap, just $10 or $15, to dole out to groups of people looking for COVID.

No one else is this close to making cheap wearable COVID detection devices, Bhunia said, noting that his design could start production as soon as next year. By then, it could be used to track more than just COVID. Patients could monitor the development of conditions such as liver cirrhosis or diabetes by looking at trends in skin temperature changes.

That’s valuable information, whether it’s a cheap wearable for the masses or an expensive smartwatch. It makes sense why Samsung added skin temperature tracking to the Watch 5: more sensors, more data.

“Combinatorial [skin temperature] with the other sensors together they can provide a much more meaningful set of information for the healthcare professional, and even individually,” said Bhunia.

In the right hands, combining skin temperature with the variety of data already collected by the Galaxy Watch 5 could ensure it’s more than just a gimmick.

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