- Apple's upcoming Apple Watch Series 4 will get the ability to take an ECG reading — a super-accurate way to diagnose heart conditions — before the end of the year.
- Apple said it was the first to offer that feature "over the counter," and that it had received FDA clearance.
- However, venture-backed startup AliveCor, based in Google's hometown of Mountain View, has been making ECG hardware for smartphones, and was surprised at Apple's announcement — with its CEO going so far as to accuse Apple as making up "alternative facts."
On Wednesday, Apple's biggest surprise wasn't new phones, but a new feature in the forthcoming Apple Watch Series 4 — the ability to run an electrocardiogram (ECG) test just by placing your finger on a button.
ECG tests are the gold standard that doctors rely on to diagnose heart issues. The sensors on previous Apple Watches and Fitbits can monitor your heart rate, but they're better suited for fitness, not medical usage. With heart disease as the number-one cause of death in the United States, this Apple Watch feature could help users catch problems early and save some lives.
Over at the headquarters of AliveCor, a startup based in Google's hometown of Mountain View, they, too, were surprised by the announcement, CEO Vic Gundotra said in a phone interview on Thursday. Gundotra is a former Googler, widely known as the executive behind the Google+ social network.
Specifically, Gundotra says that his company was confused by Apple's claims that the Series 4 will be the first over-the-counter ECG testing device for consumers. AliveCor is a 49-employee startup that makes over-the-counter ECG testing devices and software, including an FDA-cleared band for the Apple Watch, called KardiaBand, and a version that attaches to a smartphone, called Kardia.
"We were watching [the announcement], and we were surprised," Gundotra said. "It was amazing, it was like us being on stage, with the thing we’ve been doing for 7 years," referring to AliveCor's product for detecting atrial fibrillation (AFib), a tough-to-spot heart disorder that manifests as an irregular, often quick heart rate that can cause poor circulation.
"Although when they said they were first to go over-the-counter, we were surprised," he continued. "Apple doesn’t like to admit they copy anyone, even in the smallest things. Their own version of alternative facts."
Like AliveCor's products, the new Apple Watch will be able to take ECG readings and test for atrial fibrillation,
The fact that a huge tech giant is entering their corner of health-tech validates AliveCor's approach, Gundotra said. "I commend them, it's the very mission we’ve been on," he said, saying making ECG readings more accessible is "insanely important" and "will save lives."
Have clarity on this -- Alivecor is available to buy over the counter or online, but a doctor reviews the first ECG to "unlock" it within 24 hours. After that, immediate results. Apple has clearance from FDA to deliver that reading to consumers right away.https://t.co/20679iJ3Cj
One key difference that will distinguish AliveCor from the Apple Watch is price, says Gundotra: AliveCor's hardware starts at $99. The new Apple Watch Series 4 with ECG hardware — it won't be enabled until later this year, through a new app, Apple said — costs $399. Many people who need at-home ECG are price sensitive, he says.
"Ours is $99, theirs is $399, our sales popped yesterday, big time," he said.
Gundotra is also hopeful that his company's expertise in machine learning and branching into other conditions will help it fend off trillion-dollar competitors. Earlier this week, AliveCor received "breakthrough status" at the FDA for its work detecting hyperkalemia, a potassium disorder.
"We love that Apple is validating AFib; just wait until you see what AliveCor is going to do next," he said. "We were a great restaurant in a remote section of town, and someone just opened a giant restaurant right next to us, bringing a lot more attention."
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