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Apple Watch Series 6 ongoing review: SpO2 tracking and brighter screen – CNET

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Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

The Apple Watch Series 6 continues to evolve as Apple’s personal health hub on your wrist. The new watch has an FDA-cleared ECG app, a family mode to keep track of loved ones and cardio fitness alerts. It can also measure blood oxygen levels.

But as the smartwatch landscape becomes saturated with competitors including Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 and the new Fitbit Sense, which promise health features including an ECG, plus a cheaper Apple Watch SE in the mix, the $399 (£379, AU$599) Series 6 faces more competition than ever. 

I’ve only spent a day with the Apple Watch Series 6, but already there are a few things that make it stand out. 

Blood oxygen levels while you sleep, or on-demand 

The biggest upgrade to the Series 6 is a new Blood Oxygen app that measures oxygen saturation in the blood, also known as SpO2. One of the first things I noticed on the watch — aside from the bright red frame — was the new sensors on the back: Eight tiny dots lined up in a circle, where the previous models only had one big one in the center. These are the red and infrared sensors that measure the color of your blood and determine the percentage of oxygen in it. 

There are two ways the Apple Watch Series 6 measures oxygen saturation: on demand through the app, or intermittently in the background as you go about your day (or night). During the setup process you’re asked whether or not you want to activate this feature on the Watch, which I did, but you can always go back and disable it in the settings. The first thing I did after strapping it on was tap on the Blood Oxygen app. The watch gives you a few tips on how to get the best result, and requires you to rest your arm on a table or flat surface. Then the 15-second countdown begins and you’re done. It was straightforward and painless. I got a 95% on my first read, which was lower than what I’m used to. Anything above 90% is considered a healthy range, but higher is better in this case. 


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I tested it a few more times and noticed I got slightly different results (a few percentage points off) depending on whether or not I was completely silent during the test, where I had the watch positioned on my wrist and how tight the watch was. I tested alongside my own pulse oximeter (the gold standard for this metric) and the Apple Watch was off by about one or two points every time, which is expected. The pulse oximeter shines the light through the tip of the finger and where it’s picked up on the other end, while the Apple Watch does it on the wrist and measures the light that bounces back, so there are many other factors that can affect your results.

I panic-bought a pulse oximeter back in March when the COVID-19 pandemic was just ramping up in the US like a lot of other people. I heard the horror stories of people dying overnight because they went to bed not knowing their blood oxygen levels were dangerously low and didn’t get to a hospital in time. I still keep it in my bedside table and use it as a safety check whenever I’m feeling ill or out of breath. To be clear, you should always check with a doctor if you’re feeling out of breath, even if your levels seem to be normal. 

Apple makes it clear that this feature isn’t intended to replace a medical device, and shouldn’t be used to make any kind of diagnosis. Instead it’s meant to provide a more general look at what’s going on in your body over a longer period of time than what you’d get from a single read with a traditional pulse oximeter. 

My results didn’t mean much on their own, but I’d be curious to know what they’d look like once I’ve accumulated enough data in the Health app — or at the very least gotten a full night’s rest under my belt — to see if I notice any trends. Significant dips in oxygen levels during sleep could help flag bigger issues such as sleep apnea or asthma. 

Apple currently has three different SpO2-related studies underway, including one related to asthma and another for detecting early signs of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

Samsung also introduced an SpO2 feature in the Galaxy Watch 3, which is measured on-demand only rather than automatically. Fitbit and Garmin also have some form of SpO2 tracking in their wearable devices.

I hope down the line Apple is able to use all this data to improve accuracy and provide some kind of alert system in the Apple Watch for SpO2 similar to what it already does with the high, low and irregular heart rhythm notifications. Maybe then I’d sleep easy knowing someone’s watching out for me and wouldn’t feel the need to break out my little pulse oximeter every time I feel so much as a tickle in my throat.  

As of now, with the Series 5 discontinued, the Series 6 is also the only watch you can get from Apple with the electrocardiogram feature, which Apple calls ECG, that debuted on the Series 4 in 2018.

New colors, brighter screen

Aside from the sensors on the back, the Apple Watch Series 6 could pass for a Series 5. They have the same body and similar always-on display. It wasn’t until I put them side by side that I noticed a difference. While the screen on the Series 5 dims when not in use, the Series 6 almost looks like it’s still on, which is especially helpful when you’re outdoors. Apple says it’s 2.5 times brighter and it shows.  

It’s also the first Apple Watch to add to the traditional silver, space gray and gold finishes. Mine came in a Product Red aluminum frame, but it’s also available in blue. The aluminum version will now come in blue and Product Red, while the stainless steel will get a new gold finish. 

I like the red, but I think I’d still stick to a more neutral tone for the frame and spice it up with the watch band instead. 

Claspless bands and Memoji watch faces 

Apple also announced a new type of silicone band with no clasps or buckles called Solo Loop

It looks and feels similar to the silicone sports band, but with no overlapping parts. I set up my watch with a black size 4 strap that Apple provided and just slipped in on my wrist like a hair tie. The material feels stretchy and slightly smooth to the touch. I thought it felt a bit tight at first, but I barely felt it on my wrist after a few hours. It is important to get your size right though, because the size down for me would’ve been way too small. 

This will require you to measure your wrist before you buy it. And for this you’ll need a measuring tape, which I personally don’t always have on hand. It’s also expensive for a band that I’d worry would stretch a bit over time. It’s $49 on its own, the same price as the silicone sports bands. 

I’ll have to report back on the stretching once I’ve used it for a while. I do think it would be a good alternative for kids, which Apple is now targeting with its new Family Setup, because it’s less cumbersome to put on and take off.  

The new Family Setup feature allows you to set up a second Apple Watch that doesn’t need its own iPhone. You can program location alerts from the parent’s iPhone, designate which contacts they can communicate with and limit use during certain hours with the School Time mode.

There are also new ways to customize the watch face with a new Animoji and Memoji that you can create directly on the watch, which I did. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it on as my main screen, but I can see this being popular with kids too. 

Faster processor, but only slightly better battery 

The other key upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6 is the faster processor: Apple’s S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11. Aside from being faster to launch apps, the new processor makes the Watch more efficient at extending battery life during runs. In my 10 hours of use, the Apple Watch had no problem loading apps, displaying messages and showing stats in real time. But the Series 5 already felt fast to me, and so far I haven’t noticed a huge change in my day-to-day use. 

I was hoping the faster processor would have a bigger impact on battery life, especially as Apple rolls out sleep tracking on the Apple Watch. You’ll need at least a 30% charge at the end of the day for the new sleep-tracking feature launching with WatchOS 7.  Sadly it still has the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 5, although that’s according to Apple: I haven’t worn it long enough to test the battery life for myself yet. What it does improve upon is on charge time. It now charged to 100% in 1.5 hours compared to the 2 hours needed by its predecessors. But you’ll have to provide your own wall charger, because Apple isn’t including them in the box anymore. You just get the cable with the magnetic puck. 

Bye, bye Force Touch on WatchOS 7 

The update to WatchOS 7 eliminated Force Touch on the Apple Watch across the board, so instead of applying more pressure on the watch face, you now have to long-press to prompt an action. You still get the same haptic feedback that you would with Force Touch, but it didn’t seem quite as satisfying. It also means you have to relearn certain actions like switching from grid view to list view for your app screen. If you long press on the app page, they all start to jiggle like on the iPhone to rearrange or delete. The list view option has moved to the Settings. 

Real-time elevation and cardio fitness alerts 

The entire Apple Watch line will also get new fitness features with WatchOS 7, including dance tracking and core training, but only the Series 6 and Apple Watch SE include a new always-on altimeter that provides real-time elevation monitoring you can use during an outdoor workout. 

The Apple Watch also uses the Vo2 max reading (maximum oxygen consumption during exercise) to monitor cardio fitness levels. It will eventually let you know when your levels are too low with a new notification feature that’s launching later this year. According to Apple, this metric can be an important indicator of overall health.


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Fitness Plus with the Apple Watch at its core

Apple’s new subscription Fitness Plus service brings guided workouts to the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. You can choose from a variety of different programs to stream on your device of choice and sync with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch will automatically start the correct workout for you and display your stats on the screen, so you can follow along without having to glance at your phone. Instructors will use the Apple Watch as a training tool to push you during a workout. 

Sadly I wasn’t able to test this out on the watch yet, because it’s not launching until later this year. The Fitness Plus subscription will cost $9.99 (£9.99, AU$14.99) a month, or $80 (£80, AU$120) a year.

Read more: Apple Fitness Plus vs. Peloton: Which streaming workout service is better?

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Hands on with Apple's MagSafe charger and silicone cases – AppleInsider

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Apple’s MagSafe accessories have started to show up at customers’ doorsteps. We take a look at a few first-party cases, as well as Apple’s MagSafe charger, to see how they work.

A few readers had questions after AppleInsider posted its in-depth look on MagSafe last week. Here, we have an opportunity to answer those queries with a hands-on of Apple’s own accessories.

Apple’s MagSafe charger

As Apple just introduced the standard, the iPhone maker is one of the only manufacturers to currently have MagSafe products on the market. OtterBox has released a few cases, but it won’t be long before countless others flood the market.

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Ahead of the full launch of iPhone 12 — including November’s iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max debuts — we got our hands on Apple’s MagSafe charger and several MagSafe-compatible silicone cases. Apple is still readying a leather sleeve, leather cases, and wallets. The wallets, big enough to house credit cards, are on sale now though they don’t ship until November or December.

MagSafe charger

MagSafe for iPhone is what one would expect from a magnetic wireless charger. At first blush it looks like a scaled up version of the Apple Watch charging puck, at least the stainless steel version that comes with the higher-end models. The back of the charger sports a nice matte finish that resists fingerprints. Instead of hard plastic, the white center portion — the part that touches your phone — is soft and feels very similar to Apple’s silicone cases.

Apple MagSafe charger

Apple MagSafe charger

A roughly three-foot USB-C cable is permanently affixed to the charging puck and should anything go bad with the cable the whole thing is bound for a landfill. If you didn’t assume by the slim packaging, no power adapter is included.

Apple MagSafe Charger versus Apple Watch charging puck

Apple MagSafe Charger versus Apple Watch charging puck

Apple says you need at least a 20W USB-C power brick for its MagSafe charger if you want the maximum 15W of wireless power. Apple does offer its own, but we prefer a few third-party choices like the Anker PowerPort Nano III.

Charging iPhone 11 Pro with MagSafe charger

Charging iPhone 11 Pro with MagSafe charger

MagSafe is compatible with the Qi standard, which means that the iPhone 12 be juiced up by Qi chargers, while the MagSafe puck can charge Qi-enabled devices. We tested this ourselves with our AirPods Pro and our iPhone 11 Pro Max — both of which worked without issue. It even charged our Samsung devices we had in the studio.

Charging AirPods Pro with MagSafe charger

Charging AirPods Pro with MagSafe charger

When connected to a Qi phone like our iPhone 11 Pro Max, there is a slight magnetic attraction which does a decent job of keeping the puck in place. It helps align our phone better than normal Qi wireless chargers. We can even sit and use our iPhone while it charges and the puck doesn’t come free. That said, it isn’t a very strong attraction and easily falls off with quick motions. It wasn’t designed to be useful for these phones, but rather the iPhone 12. This is just a nice benefit.

Unfortunately, it does not charge our Apple Watch. Apple Watch still uses a proprietary charging method that is based around Qi, but is not compatible.

Apple silicone MagSafe-enabled cases

The second MagSafe accessory Apple released is an upgraded version of its silicone cases. They have the same feel as before, and the same physical makeup, just a new shape. Unlike OtterBox, which simply glued a MagSafe-compatible insert into their cases and called it a day, Apple sandwiches the magnets in between the case’s back panel and microfiber lining.

To designate the MagSafe location, the inside of the case has a plastic indicator that looks like a sticker. Do not try to peel it off…

Inside of Apple's silicone cases

The inside of Apple’s silicone cases

Aside from the ring in the center, there is an additional magnet array at in the six o’clock position which is used for alignment. The MagSafe charger doesn’t utilize this piece, but it is necessary for accessories like wallets that need to be correctly orientated on the handset to function.

Since we don’t have our iPhone 12 yet, we can’t test charging the phone. We can, however, test connecting the MagSafe puck to our case. One of the most-asked questions was regarding the strength of MagSafe’s magnets. At least to the case, the attraction is substantial but not overpowering.

When you lift your phone off the table, the charger will for sure be taken along. This can be good if you want to charge while holding your phone, but bad if you always want to disconnect as it requires two hands. Of course, there will soon be a slew of MagSafe chargers like stands, docks and other stationary designs.

We put a dummy iPhone 12 into the case and were able to let it dangle without either the phone or case coming free. A vigorous shake did break the bond. Based on early looks, it seems that there will be a slightly stronger connection when a real iPhone 12 is present.

Plum, Pink Citrus, Kumquat, and Product(RED) cases

Apple’s Plum, Pink Citrus, Kumquat, and Product(RED) silicone cases

Another question we heard was whether or not the puck had to be facing any certain way. The puck can, in fact, rotate but not too easily. It doesn’t have a fixed orientation, but the silicone-on-silicone creates enough grip to prevent free rotation. This is great because you can have the cable positioned at any angle.

These accessories are a great first start and we will continue to test them and some other early third-party accessories in the coming days, especially when we get our hands on the new iPhone 12.

There’s been some discussion as to whether or not MagSafe will be iPhone 12’s killer feature, and regardless of where you stand on the matter, chances are you will eventually have some form of MagSafe accessory. From our first look, that’s not a bad thing.

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Apple Issues Expensive Shock For Millions Of iPhone Buyers – Forbes

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Of all Apple’s new iPhone models, it is the midrange iPhone 12 which is expected to be (by far) the biggest seller. But Apple just confirmed large, stealthy price hikes which may change that.

Spotted by The Verge, Apple has quietly updated its official Repair Page to reveal the iPhone 12 will cost up to 40% more to repair than the iPhone 11. This means it will now cost as much as the iPhone 12 Pro for some repairs, despite using inferior parts. 

Let’s put some numbers on this. The headline change is for screen repairs out of warranty. The charge for an iPhone 11 was $199, but the cost for an iPhone 12 has skyrocketed to $279. This is the same as the iPhone 12 Pro (and iPhone 11 Pro before it), despite the fact the iPhone 12 uses a cheaper OLED panel with lower brightness (800 vs 625 nits). 

It is a similar story if you navigate to Apple’s Other Damage repair page. Here Apple has increased iPhone 12 repair costs for anything it classes as ‘other damage’ (liquid ingress, cracked back, etc) to $449. This is a $50 increase over the iPhone 11. The iPhone 12 Pro costs even more at $549, but this remains the same price as the iPhone 11 Pro. 

All of which (somewhat conveniently) makes Apple’s AppleCarePlus insurance policy borderline essential. For the iPhone 12 this costs $7.99 per month ($149 upfront) or $11.49 per month ($219 upfront) with added Theft and Loss for two years of cover. You still have to pay an excess on top of these plans as well: screen damage $29, accidental damage $99 and (if you have the plan) theft or loss $149. 

And there are further stealth costs to iPhone 12 ownership. If you plan to buy sim-free the phone will cost $30 more at each price point than Apple advertises, because the $799, $849 and $949 price points require you to sign a two year carrier contract. You will also need to pay an extra $40 if you want a wall charger ($20) and EarPods ($20) as they are no longer included in the box this year. 

The end result is, compared to a 64GB iPhone 11 launch price ($699), you’ll need to spend $870 on a 64GB iPhone 12 with the same accessories, while the 40% increase in screen repair charges means taking out an AppleCarePlus plan on top is virtually essential. This brings your total spend for a 64GB iPhone 12 to over $1,000. 

Whether this is cynical exploitation or ingenious business acumen, is likely to divide opinion. But all those iPhone 13 leaked upgrades are suddenly looking better and better.

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More On Forbes

First Apple iPhone 13 Leaks Reveal Smaller Notch, ProMotion Display, Touch ID

New Apple Patents Suggest MagSafe AirPods Are In Development

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Adobe brings its misinformation-fighting content attribution tool to the Photoshop beta – TechCrunch

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Adobe’s work on a chain of custody that could link online images back to their origins is inching closer to becoming a reality. The prototype, part of the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), will soon appear in the beta of Photoshop, Adobe’s ubiquitous image editing software.

Adobe says the preview of the new tool will be available to users in the beta release of Photoshop and Behance over the next few weeks. The company calls the CAI implementation “an early version” of the open standard that it will continue to hone.

The project has a few different applications. It aims to make a more robust means of keeping creators’ names attached to the content they create. But its most compelling use case for CAI would see the tool become a “tamper-proof” industry standard aimed at images used to spread misinformation.

Adobe describes the project’s mission as an effort to “increase trust and transparency online with an industry-wide attribution framework that empowers creatives and consumers alike.” The result is a technical solution that could (eventually) limit the spread of deepfakes and other kinds of misleading online content.

“… Eventually you might imagine a social feed or a news site that would allow you to filter out things that are likely to be inauthentic,” Adobe’s director of CAI, Andy Parsons said earlier this year. “But the CAI steers well clear of making judgment calls — we’re just about providing that layer of transparency and verifiable data.”

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The idea sounds like a spin on EXIF data, the embedded opt-in metadata that attaches to an image information like lens type and location. But Adobe says the new attribution standard will be less “brittle” and much more difficult to manipulate. The end result would have more in common with digital fingerprinting systems like the ones that identify child exploitation online than it would with EXIF.

“We believe attribution will create a virtuous cycle,” Allen said. “The more creators distribute content with proper attribution, the more consumers will expect and use that information to make judgement calls, thus minimizing the influence of bad actors and deceptive content.”

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