When the engineers at Apple were first developing the Apple Watch, a product that debuted in 2015, they envisioned it as a device with many medical applications. Steve Jobs himself, who succumbed to cancer in 2011, spent his final months encouraging Apple researchers to develop a noninvasive glucose reader for use by diabetics.

Such medical uses for wearable technology eventually fell by the wayside, as Apple’s developers decided that they either were unreliable, made the watch too bulky, or drained too much battery. However, the Apple Watch is becoming useful for medical purposes after all.

This is possible largely because of Apple’s announcement in September 2017 that the watch would no longer need to be tethered to a smartphone. Instead, the Apple Watch will function as a standalone device. This has led medical device manufacturers to tap into features of Apple wearables such as cellular connectivity to develop more advanced medical accessories. One key example is an electrocardiogram for monitoring heart activity, which makes it easier for people to manage chronic health conditions directly from their wrists.

“This is an important step in the evolution of wearables,” Tim Bajarin, president of research firm Creative Strategies, said in an interview with The New York Times. “The Apple Watch can now be on you all the time doing this type of medical monitoring.”

Apple has dominated the market for smartwatches over the last two years, but even the Apple Watch has struggled to become as popular as the company’s other mobile devices, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The hope at Apple is that as the digital health revolution continues, and mobile health technology becomes more prominent, people will place more of a premium on having their own private medical accessories. 

We’ve already seen a couple of ideas for mobile medical applications take off in recent months. In November, AliveCor introduced a built-in electrocardiogram for the Apple Watch that will help users detect irregular heart activity. Additionally, Apple has continued to research the potential for a noninvasive continuous glucose reader for use by diabetics.