In the past few weeks, you may have heard something about an Apple Watch ban. It’s about a sensor, some medical technology companies are accusing Apple of violating their patents. This medical technology company is Masimo, and it is known in the medical community for its pulse oximetry technology, used to measure oxygen levels in the blood.
This smartwatch contains the technology that led to the ban of the Apple Watch
The company also wants to be known for something else: its brand-new smartwatch, which features the technology that caused the Apple Watch problem.
Masimo isn’t traditionally a gadget maker, but its new watch — the Freedom — aims to be a true consumer device: something that looks stylish on the wrist, can relay your notifications, and will track your health while you’re at it. On paper, this looks very similar to the Apple Watch.
I was able to see an early prototype of the Freedom at CES last week, and in person, it’s an interesting product. For starters, it’s visually different from the Apple Watch, as it has opted for a circular display with a leather strap, with no digital crown in sight. For scrolling, there is a unique touch bar on the right side through which you can swipe up and down to navigate. On the left, if you close your eyes, is a small button that you use to select items in the Freedom interface. At 46mm long, it’s chunky on my small wrist, but it didn’t look out of place on Eugene Goldberg, Masimo’s head of consumer health.
“It really adds the convenience functionality that the consumer is used to having, as well as tracking all the things they do,” Goldberg says. Freedom will have features like notifications, timers, and a smoother app experience. On the health front, the book also provides insight into sleep and stress.
However, what I saw were just the bare bones of a fairly simple smartwatch. There weren’t a lot of menus to look at, and it was clear that the software was a beta version that wasn’t ready to go. As a prototype, it was clear that the platform was still evolving.
The focus on smarter features is a change in strategy for Masimo — because, technically, the company has tried its hand at smartwatches before. The Masimo W1 was launched last year without much, if any, fanfare. But W1 leaned heavily on the health side of things. It had FDA approval for blood oxygen and pulse rate but lacked the smart and productivity side of the equation. Goldberg describes the W1 as the kind of device you’d get for an elderly relative concerned about their health, rather than someone keen on having the tracker serve as an extension of their smartphone. Although it looks like an Apple Watch, the W1 is a fitness band for the Freedom smartwatch.
In our meeting, Goldberg emphasized that Masimo’s goal with the Freedom Watch was to demonstrate the accuracy of its sensors — not to take a shot at Apple. In particular, he highlighted that unlike some competitors (Goldberg declined to name names), Masimo’s blood oxygen technology is able to take into account challenges such as mobility, decreased perfusion or poor blood flow, and skin pigmentation. Goldberg also says it’s too early to tell if the Freedom will get FDA approval, though he tells me it will feature the same medical-grade sensor as the W1.
“Even as technology improves in general, we need to create an expectation of what accuracy and ‘continuous monitoring’ actually means,” Goldberg says. “If you go to CES and in the digital health space, the word ‘continuous’ is everywhere, but I don’t think Necessarily it’s all really continuous.” “You want to know where is the good data, where is the bad data, and then how do you as a health professional actually work with that data? This is where all of this is headed.
Goldberg is right about the shortcuts other watches take in their health readings. Many big-name wearables don’t check your heart rate (or blood oxygen) every second; Many choose to prioritize battery life by measuring once every few minutes. Other companies are trying to make this distinction a selling point, too: Movano was at CES this year touting the accuracy of a medical smart ring, and a few years ago, Omron debuted an FDA-approved smartwatch capable of measuring blood pressure.
However, Massimo’s timing is strange. The company was relatively unknown to consumers when its W1 smartwatch was launched, but the Apple Watch ban has since pushed the company and its blood oxygen sensing technology into the news. It’s still not quite as recognizable as an Apple or Samsung, but the drama helped the Freedom stand out a bit from the countless trackers and wearables on the CES show floor.
Whether it will continue to stand out depends on whether the Watch can hold up when it launches later this year — and, perhaps, whether the Apple Watch has regained its blood oxygen advantage.