In itsEarlier this month, Samsung introduced a new , offers several small design tweaks and a new health-tracking feature: measuring changes in skin temperature. Only time will tell if it ends up being a killer feature or a gimmick.
For now, we can only see its potential.
At first glance, skin temperature tracking may seem less useful than previous smartwatch add-ons, such as sleep tracking, an electrocardiogram function to monitor arrhythmias, or blood oxygen monitoring to detect sleep apnea. It’s not even clear what exactly changes in skin temperature mean. During Unpacked, Samsung vaguely hinted that they could indicate a possible illness or other condition.
Welcome to the feature race among wearables, where manufacturers add a new feature hoping to claim their product is superior to the competition — and therefore the healthier option. With Apple’s massive lead in smartwatches cemented, companies like Samsung will have to go the extra mile to convince you that their wearables are worth another look.
But how skin temperature translates into health is less obvious than changes in heart rate or sleep. Unlike core temperature, multiple factors such as outdoor heat, exercise, diet, and menstrual cycles can also affect skin temperature, so wearables rely on other sensors to interpret what’s happening outside the body to isolate what’s happening inside.
To benefit from skin temperature monitoring, readings must be taken over time to establish a baseline, said Ramon Llamas, research director at analyst firm IDC. If you’re usually trending at 96.9 degrees Fahrenheit and soaring to 99.1 for a long time, then you may have some problems. Smartwatches like the Galaxy Watch 5 can combine these skin temperature readings with heart rate, breathing, sleep tracking, blood oxygen levels and other metrics for a comprehensive report on your health.
“Now we have a clearer readout that can tell us if you’re really sick, or if it might just be a thing of the past,” Llamas said.
The Galaxy Watch 5 isn’t the first wearable to track changes in skin temperature. The Oura Ring monitors skin temperature and displays the results through its paired app, while the latest Fitbit Sense is a wrist wearable that shows temperature changes on its display.
While Samsung has been vague about other ways its watches can use skin temperature, it invites app developers to innovate their own ways to take advantage of the feature. But the company can learn from what other wearables have done with skin temperature tracking over the years.
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Oura Ring wearables have had skin temperature tracking as a feature for years. Caroline Kryder, Oura’s product marketing manager, said it was originally intended to enhance sleep tracking, as changes in skin temperature can show when a user enters and exits different sleep stages. Skin temperature is one of several metrics that affects the “readiness score.” If the score is lower than normal, you may get sick.
“It’s signaling to you, hey, your temperature looks higher than normal, your heart rate is higher than normal, and those are common signs of stress that you might be experiencing something,” Clyde said.
Since its launch, Oura has developed new ways to analyze health data captured by Ring wearables. Early in the pandemic, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, monitored Ring users to see if finger-based wearables could detect COVID infections, and in late 2020 published a paper showing that by looking at the skin during fever Potential for temperature changes to track COVID infection. For the same reason, NBA teams equip players with Oura rings.
Two years later, wearables still fail to directly detect COVID, despite continued research. Instead, Kryder noted, users may see abnormalities in health indicators such as skin temperature, heart rate, or blood oxygen levels, and then talk to their doctor in case those portend a COVID infection.
But other partners have brought new ways to use Oura Rings, including pairing it with the FDA-approved Natural Cycles app, which uses a wearable device to analyze skin temperature and other factors to determine daily fertility.
It’s these apps that paved the way for the Galaxy Watch 5.
Making progress on COVID
Oura isn’t the only one looking to tackle COVID. Swarup Bhunia, professor and director of the Warren B. Nelms Connected World Institute at the University of Florida, has teamed up with a team of academics to develop an affordable wearable device that can measure skin temperature to predict COVID infection, even when the wearer is asymptomatic.
Bhunia and his team didn’t try out the wearable prototype directly on COVID patients. Instead, they used data from several doctors on skin temperature changes in COVID patients, outlined in a paper published in IEEE in January, and built models to detect these changes in their wearables.
“It gives us confidence that [our wearable] COVID can be tested for people who have no obvious symptoms,” Bhunia said.
Bhunia’s research group is looking to turn its prototype into a production wearable device that can be used by the public. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5, it’s very cheap at $10 or $15 and can be handed out to people concerned about COVID.
No one has come as close to making an inexpensive COVID-detecting wearable, Bhunia said, noting that his design could begin production as early as next year. Until then, it can be used to track more than just COVID. Patients can monitor the development of conditions such as liver cirrhosis or diabetes by observing trends in skin temperature changes.
This is valuable insight, whether it’s a cheap wearable from the masses or an expensive smartwatch. It makes sense for Samsung to add skin temperature tracking to the Watch 5 — more sensors, more data.
“Combined [skin temperature] Together with other sensors, a more meaningful set of information can be provided to healthcare professionals or even alone,” Bhunia said.
In the right circumstances, combining skin temperature with the array of data the Galaxy Watch 5 already collects ensures it’s more than a gimmick.