Glucose tracking is coming to the Apple Watch, but not like we thought

Native core Bluetooth will let you connect to a range of devices
Apple Watch enabled for glucose tracking

Apple has announced the Apple Watch will be getting native core Bluetooth in watchOS 4, which will let you pair accessories - including glucose trackers.

You might recall rumors that Apple was working on building glucose tracking directly into the Watch - and that may still be the case - but it's also possible that this is what it was all about. Users will be able pair things like tennis trackers from the likes of Zepp and Apple said it will offer integration with Dexcom's glucose monitors, which gives the Watch another big string to its bow.

Users could already connect to Dexcom devices with watchOS 3, but with the new update it will provide that information continuously, meaning users won't have to keep pulling out their phone. It's not the native tracker we've been hoping for, but it's another notable step to making the Watch an interface to our health data.

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We previously reported that Apple had hired a small team of biomedical engineers to build a non-invasive sensor for monitoring glucose levels, according to CNBC, and had even started clinical trials in the Bay Area, while working with consultants to navigate tricky health regulations.

The report said that the project has been ongoing for at least five years, and as of a year ago had as many as 30 people on the team, reporting to Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies, Johny Srouji. It goes on to state that Apple's non-invasive technique would use optical sensors to shine through the skin and read blood sugar level - the Apple Watch being the most likely vessel for this technology.

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But here's the thing: non-invasive glucose tracking is yet to be proven as a viable alternative to existing methods. As we recently explored, continuous trackers require a sensor to be put under the skin - and still demand fingerstick readings to calibrate.

There are other routes being taken: we also spoke to engineers at Oregon State University who have created a contact lens that they claim will be able to predict glucose levels with tear fluid as accurately as a finger prick. Google has been working on something similar, though last we heard it had been put on hold.

But reading through the skin? That's a different ball game. There's no denying this would be a huge deal if Apple made it work, but it's a big if. When it comes to heart rate sensors for fitness it can afford some degree of inaccuracy, but with glucose monitoring there's less margin for getting it wrong.

More than 29 million people in the US suffer from diabetes, and many struggle to keep the condition in balance. "On average a lot of diabetes patients aren't achieving what they want, and that's all about their glucose control," Jake Leach, senior VP of research and development at glucose monitoring system maker Dexcom, told us. "So if we can provide them with better information to make better decisions on managing their diabetes, I think we can get some of these better outcomes that are going to ultimately reduce the cost of managing diabetes."

If Apple could one day offer a non-invasive, medically accurate glucose monitor into the Apple Watch - or another wearable - it would have a device that's an essential for millions of people around the world. For now, this latest announcement is still going to be a big deal for a disease that affects tens of millions of people.

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