The iBeat Heart Watch: small, slick and incredibly smart, can it actually save your life?

At 40 years of age, Ryan Howard was acquainted with the trauma of unexpectedly losing a loved one to forces seemingly beyond anyone’s control: for on the cusp of Thanksgiving Day, his friend passed away without warning in his sleep.

To some of us, it might have appeared to be ‘one of those things’: terrible, tragic, but ultimately unavoidable, a situation that we were, are and always would be frustratingly powerless to avert. Howard, however, maintained a different outlook. His resolve that, if he could help it, nothing of the sort should afflict anyone again was cemented by this encounter with mortality – and so the seeds that would, some three years into the future, produce the iBeat Heart Watch had been sown.

The device that he and his team at iBeat have launched this month does not, at first glance, resemble one that has the potential to “disrupt the $6 billion-dollar personal emergency response system (PERS) industry and turn it on its head”, Really, the Heart Watch just looks like any other watch, available in the fairly standard colour combinations of black-and-silver and white-and-rose-gold. It retails for an eyebrow-raising $249 before the $20 or so a month subscription fee is factored into the equation. It is not supposed to be removed at any point in the day, even for bed (this would defeat the object that Howard sought to realise all along) and is “pretty much exclusively” meant for over-50s.

So why invest in this watch specifically? The brand does not (as of yet, anyhow) carry the same celebrity status of the instantly distinguishable, effortlessly cool Apple Watch. What can this product do that its world-famous competitor can’t?

The short answer is that it is designed to save your life. In fact, not just your life, but your partner’s life, your friend’s life, your parent’s life – anyone’s life.

Beneath its elegant but ordinary exterior, the Heart Watch is embedded with sensors that measure, amongst other biometrics, the wearer’s heart rate and blood flow. Then, utilising AI, the data is analysed in real-time and any unusual fluctuations in either of the above prompts the device to ask the wearer if they are okay. If the answer is negative, or the wearer makes no response within the 10 second timeframe, a continuously-operating iBeat dispatch team (funded by that monthly $20 payment) is contacted to send the appropriate help. Alternatively, an unwell user can press the Heart Watch’s emergency button to summon emergency or non-emergency aid. Given that someone in the United States suffers a cardiac incident every 43 seconds, there is little wonder that a product like the Heart Watch – chiefly designed to reduce the amount of time in which a patient receives medical assistance – is entering the PERS market with a bang. All that’s left to do is attain FDA approval for the Heart Watch to pass as a medical device.

Unlike the Apple Watch (which Howard says isn’t “medical grade” anyway, for all its fitness settings), his device can function independent of a user’s smartphone and connection to Wi-Fi, although the company does offer a useful app wherein data on one’s medical history, conditions and allergies can be inputted. The Heart Watch is supported by another app, Heart Hero, that users can access if they wish to learn CPR. Its battery life is quadruple that of its chief rival and does not need to be taken off to charge, thanks to its portable charger, meaning that the user is never vulnerable. On the company’s webpage, the CEO himself describes it as “a breakthrough product” “incomparable to anything on the market”. Indeed, before the appearance of the Heart Watch, Howard claims the nearest thing to it was the LifeAlert device, which is principally targeted at pensioners and is unable to detect signs of an oncoming stroke or heart attack. iBeat is indiscriminately dismissive toward other medical alert systems marketed at consumers, damning them as ‘antiquated’ and for confining users to their homes; the Heart Watch has greatly improved upon their functions with its unique ability to measure biometrics and send for necessary help.

Suddenly, its price tag doesn’t seem so large anymore. The small doubts that hang around the product – such as what to do in the event that the emergency button is pushed by accident or without just cause – seem insignificant in relation to the benefits in store (after all, it is not taxpayers’ money that will be wasted when episodes such as these occur). Although the Heart Watch is an example of utmost stringency – some might argue too much – it is applicative in aspects of life where it is proverbially far better to be safe than sorry. For all of the products that are advertised as life-changing, the Heart Watch does not, like those, pay little more than mere lip-service: it can talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk – all while sitting on your wrist.


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