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Apple is reportedly working on iPhone features that could help to diagnose mental health issues, as well as a decline in cognitive ability.

A Wall Street Journal report says Apple has teamed with experts in the medical field to see if indicators like typing, facial expressions, sleep and movement data can be used to develop new features for the iPhone.

According to the report, the company is working with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a pharmaceutical company called Biogen – on separate projects – to develop algorithms based on the user’s biometric data.

The work with UCLA is focused on whether there’s mileage in the potential diagnosis of stress, anxiety and depression, according to the WSJ report. It could use cameras, keyboard and audio sensors to paint a picture of the iPhone user’s mental health.

It could look into speech, heart rate (via a companion Apple Watch), breathing rates, sleep patterns and also how fast the iPhone owner is walking. The documents cited by the report also speak of how typing speed and typing errors could also offer insights.

Those participating in the prospective initiative could also be asked to fill in mental health questionnaires, while cortisol levels could be measured via hair samples. The Biogen project is looking into cognitive decline and will likely use some of the same metrics.

The report, which cites some internal sources and documents, does say the research may not amount to new features, but it does raise some interesting prospects.

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The report says: “Using an array of sensor data that includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, typing behaviour and more, researchers hope they can tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably, the people said. Apple hopes that would become the basis for unique features for its devices, according to the people and documents.”

Naturally, any such initiative would require user opt-in and would raise some important privacy and ethical questions. It does seem that any such features may be years away, if they do end up materialising.

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