The first true Apple Watch medical accessory was just approved by regulators

(Image credit: AliveCor)

Image credit: AliveCor

Today the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it has cleared AliveCor's KardiaBand, making this the first true medical accessory for the Apple Watch. Basically, it's a watch strap that serves as a portable electrocardiogram (EKG) reader. 

So far, the Apple Watch hasn't been able to report much more than your heart rate, but the KardiaBand allows you to keep your doctor informed of abnormal heart beats and atrial fibrillation by comparing your current data with data observed in the past. As humble as it looks, it's a potentially massive development as you often only find EKG readers in doctors' offices.

It's not even all that hard to use. To get an EKG reading, you simply need to touch the strap's sensor for 30 seconds.

In a sense, that's a bit of an issue. Having to stop and hold a button means you're technically not getting a fully accurate reading as you might if the Apple Watch itself were continually monitoring the same data. In addition, it may be difficult to detect abnormal heart beats when you're simply standing at rest. K

Keep in mind then that it's not really a full replacement, but its portability and compatibility for the Apple Watch makes it a more appealing option than what was available before. For that matter, also keep in mind that it cleared the FDA's usually tough approval process.

Watch out

Back in September, the FDA introduced a fast-track approval program that would get medical software on devices like the Apple Watch and Fitbit straps more easily, so it's possible that we'll once day see this kind of feature in the Apple Watch anyway.

Early Apple Watch rumors suggested that it might be capable of it now, but Apple didn't include the feature as it didn't want to deal with the FDA's typically long approval process. In fact, recent patents suggest that Apple is even tinkering with the idea of including EKG sensors in the AirPod earbuds.

A strap like the Kardia Band, though, currently provides the best of both worlds. The Apple Watch remains the center of attention, but the fact that a third-party produced the actual EKG reader allowed for a separate timeline for FDA approval.

For such an impressive piece of technology, the KardiaBand seems reasonably priced at $199 (around £147 / AU$263), but to unlock features like cloud storage, reports shared with your doctor, and your EKG history, you'll have to pay a $99 (around £73/AU $131) subscription annually.

The strap works with every version of the Apple Watch save the original one.