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Samsung takes a step towards measuring blood pressure via a smartwatch

Samsung announced a new line of wearables this week, including a new smartwatch called Galaxy Active. The device claimed to monitor users’ blood pressure, which some suggested would put it ahead of its key rival, Apple, as the first big tech player to make such an important breakthrough.

The company said the new feature would come later next month through a research app developed in partnership with UC San Francisco, called My BP Lab. From mid-March, users can download the My BP Lab app via the Google Play Store, which now integrates directly to the Galaxy Watch Active and the Galaxy line of smartphones. The company added in a statement that this would allow people to “monitor blood pressure and keep better track of their physical health every day.”

Tracking blood pressure outside of the doctor’s office is a very big deal. Hypertension affects about one-third of Americans, and is linked with heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and all sorts of other complications when it isn’t properly managed.

Samsung has certainly made a step in the right direction, but it’s not groundbreaking — at least not yet.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed the following when asked for more information:

When users first set up the app, they set up a blood pressure reading measured by a cuff to get an accurate first read.

The app uses the raw signal from the reading to calculate blood pressure.

The device has an optical sensor to measure heart rate.

Samsung did not respond to a request for more information on whether the company integrates with third-party wireless cuffs, how often it needs to be calibrated to a cuff and how it validates accuracy. Thus far, it has not shared information on whether it has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But the tidbits it did share are revealing. Alexis Zervoglos, chief business officer for another company in the space, Qardio, has some ideas about how it will probably work.

“When you use optical sensors like Samsung is, you can estimate changes in blood pressure by looking at the volume of blood going through the vein, which will increase if pressure increases,” he explained. “At best, Samsung is looking at variation in blood pressure and not absolute blood pressure.”

The product could prove useful, especially when comparing the measurement to other factors that might impact user’s blood pressure, like exercise. But it’s not enough of a breakthrough to give Apple a scare — at least not yet.

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