The new Apple Watch Series 6 includes a sensor that allows the watch to measure blood oxygen levels. The device is a long-awaited addition to Apple’s suite of health tools, but it tracks oxygen levels at the wrist, which can be less accurate than measurements typically gathered at the fingertip.
Most oxygen sensors, including Apple’s, measure the amount of oxygen in your blood using light. These devices are called pulse oximeters, and they typically clip on to your fingertip. A standard version sends both red and infrared light through the finger, where there’s lots of blood close to the surface. A protein in the blood absorbs more infrared light when it has oxygen and more red light when it’s doesn’t. A sensor on the other side of the finger calculates how much of each type of light travels through, providing an oxygen reading.
The Apple Watch Series 6 also has red and infrared lights, but instead of sending that light through a body part, it measures the lights’ reflection. It’s the same strategy used by Garmin and Fitbit, which already have similar blood oxygen features. But the reflective method at the wrist may be less accurate, especially when oxygen levels start to drop, according to some research. There are a few reasons why: outside light sources might be able to skew the reflected light, and compared to a finger, the outside of the wrist doesn’t have as many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin.
The Apple Watch’s blood oxygen sensor isn’t a medical device and won’t be able to diagnose or monitor any medical conditions. The company says the feature is simply there to help users understand their fitness and wellness. But Apple did connect the feature back to the COVID-19 pandemic during the product announcement: “Blood oxygen and pulse oximetry are terms that we’ve heard a lot about during the COVID pandemic,” said Sumbul Ahmad Desai, Apple’s VP of health.
Early on in the pandemic, doctors found that monitoring COVID-19 patients using pulse oximeters could help detect serious problems with their oxygen levels before they started to feel short of breath. The gadgets suddenly became a must-have item and flew off the shelves, creating shortages. Some people turned to devices like Garmin watches as a workaround. Others called for Apple to activate sensors that were built into older versions of the watch and appeared capable of measuring blood oxygen levels.
Blood oxygen monitors in non-medical, wearable devices like the Apple Watch are fairly new, so there hasn’t been much independent evaluation to see how well they actually match up to typical fingertip monitors. Apple isn’t saying that its blood oxygen measure can treat a medical condition, so it doesn’t need to get clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, which would require coughing up some of that reliability data.
Normally, a “wellness”-focused feature that offers some information about your oxygen levels could still be useful information and a good party trick. But there are risks to relying on inaccurate blood oxygen metrics, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This disease is weird. Unlike many illnesses, health care workers can’t always trust that a patient’s symptoms will accurately indicate how sick they are. They need help from reliable devices that can help both patients and caregivers get an accurate read on the situation.
Apple and the other smartwatch makers haven’t cleared that bar yet. There’s a good chance they’ll publish some data on their blood oxygen sensors eventually — Apple is partnering with outside researchers to study ways their tech could be used to monitor health conditions from asthma to COVID-19. But until that’s available, it’s still probably a good idea to be a bit skeptical of smartwatch oxygen readings — and maybe get a second opinion.
Microsoft is releasing a non-subscription Office suite in 2021
In a blog post announcing the next version of its Exchange Server, Microsoft has slipped in a single line that’s bound to make those who hate paying subscription fees for Office apps happy. “Microsoft Office will also see a new perpetual release for both Windows and Mac, in the second half of 2021,” the tech giant’s Exchange team wrote (as spotted by Windows Central), confirming that a new version of Office you can purchase with a one-time payment is coming next year.
The company has been pushing Microsoft 365 for years now as the main way to get its Office apps. This subscription-based version of its suite gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and other apps for a monthly payment. While you can use some of those apps for free online with a Microsoft account, you won’t be able to install them on your PC like you’d be able to if you pay for a subscription.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X 1TB expandable storage priced at $219.99
Microsoft’s first 1TB expandable storage drive for the Xbox Series X / S will be priced at $219.99. Best Buy has started taking preorders for the accessory, revealing a final price that had leaked recently. These expandable storage cards slot into the rear of both the Xbox Series X / S to match the internal SSD speed and provide 1TB of extra storage.
Microsoft’s expandable storage solution is proprietary, and only Seagate has been announced as a manufacturer so far. Microsoft tells me more suppliers and additional sizes will be available in the future, but the $219.99 price will still surprise many potential next-gen Xbox owners.
The Xbox Series X ships with 1TB of SSD storage, and the Xbox Series S just 512GB of storage. Microsoft’s pricing means the $299 Xbox Series S jumps to nearly $520 if you want to add the additional storage and bring it up to 1.5TB overall. That may make the larger Series X more appealing to those who need the storage, particularly as games will start to require it once they’re enhanced for the Xbox Series X / S. Games for the Xbox Series S can be 30 percent smaller than the Series X, which will certainly help with storage options.
An alternative to this expandable storage is simply using any USB drive to store games when you don’t need to play them. If they’re not enhanced for Xbox Series X / S then you’ll even be able to run them direct from USB storage, or you can simply copy them and use drives as cheaper cold storage.
It’s difficult to judge the price of these expandable storage cards, simply because there aren’t enough comparable PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs out there. Sony has chosen to allow players to slot their own drives into the PS5, but these drives will need to meet the speed requirements of the internal SSD. Those speed requirements mean that PS5 owners will need the very best PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives that are starting to make their way into PCs. Samsung announced its 980 Pro earlier this week, which looks like it might be an ideal candidate for the PS5 due to its fast read and write speeds. Samsung’s 1TB option for the 980 Pro is priced at $229.99, but Sony has not yet revealed which drives will be compatible with the PS5.
The benefits of Sony’s more open approach is that pricing on compatible PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs will inevitably drop over time due to competition and lower manufacturing costs. Assuming Sony certifies most high-end drives, there should be a lot of options. Microsoft will need more manufacturers producing its expandable Xbox Series X / S storage cards for competition to take place and prices to be lowered over time. It’s going to be a waiting game to see exactly how Sony and Microsoft handle expandable storage options in the coming months, but it’s clear from Microsoft’s pricing that it’s not going to be cheap for early adopters.
Seagate’s 1TB Game Drive for Xbox Series X, Series S costs $220
At this price (and with no other sizes or manufacturers available so far) adding storage to the cheaper console costs two-thirds of the system’s price. If you’d like to have some extra space to install those launch-day games, then you can pre-order the 1TB Game Drive for Xbox Series X and Series S right now and have it ship on November 10th.
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