Apple says the Apple Watch’s hand washing feature is the result of ‘years of work’

Last week, Apple introduced some important new updates for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS. One of the new elements for Apple’s smartwatch is the ability to track hand washing, making sure owners clean their hands for the recommended 20 seconds.

Apple devoted plenty of time talking about the hand washing feature as it spoke about watchOS 7 in general, detailing how the feature works, what it looks like, and how it’s designed to be yet another element of the Watch’s health-related features. For some, it felt like a direct response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as washing hands is one of the best ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

However, a new report from TechCrunch reveals that Apple has actually been working on the hand washing detection feature for the Apple Watch for quite some time. According to the company, this feature is the result of “years of work” and not simply just a knee-jerk reaction to the COVID-19 threat.

Unlike other rush initiatives undertaken by the company once the virus hit, however, the forthcoming Apple Watch handwashing app wasn’t built overnight. The feature was the result of “years of work,” VP of Technology Kevin Lynch told TechCrunch. In typical Apple fashion, the product was a result of years of trial and error, according to the executive.

The hand washing feature will be an opt-in experience for Apple Watch owners. If an owner does opt to switch the feature on by default, then it will automatically start the 20 second countdown timer the moment that hand washing is detected. The Apple Watch does this through a few different features baked into the smartwatch, including the accelerometer and the microphone. So when the Apple Watch detects a specific pattern (which is developed on a per-person basis) for the physical act of washing hands, and the microphone listens for the sound of running water. The Apple Watch will even listen for the sound of soap being spread on the hands, too.

Users will also have the option to have the Apple Watch suggest you wash your hands on an hourly basis if you prefer to go that route.

Of course, Apple has its sights set on additional use cases for the Apple Watch and health-related needs. But how can the smartwatch be used in the fight against COVID-19? While Apple isn’t directly involved with finding a way the Apple Watch can be used to track COVID-19, the company is happy to support others who are going down this particular path:

On the Watch front specifically, it has opened remote usage for doctors looking to monitor patients’ ECG readings without risking exposure to the virus for either party. Apple currently makes no claims about the Watch’s potential for helping to diagnose the virus, however. “While we haven’t studied specifically how Apple Watch can track COVID, we’re happy to support the research the medical community is doing. We really support their initiatives by enabling our colleagues in the space, and we’re excited to see what they learn,” Apple’s VP of Health, Sumbul Ahmad Desai, tells TechCrunch.

The new hand washing feature is just one of many new additions coming to watchOS 7, which is expected to launch to the public later this year.

Do you plan on using this new hand washing feature when it launches?