3 More Ways Smart Devices Are Becoming Medical Devices

Posted in Mobile Health by Chris Newmarker on March 20, 2014

This week has seen plenty of news about storied high tech companies including Google, Apple, and Samsung increasingly turning their smart devices into health devices.

There was Google's announcement about its Android Wear project, which will include health-tracking functions on smartwatch devices. More details are leaking about the pre-installed, iWatch-compatible Healthbook app that Apple has in the works. Meanwhile, Samsung has unveiled smartphone technology to assist blind people.

Anything that gets too deep into actually diagnosing medical conditions would draw FDA scrutiny, and a level of regulation that high tech companies are not used to. Both Google and Apple executives have met with FDA officials in recent months.

It will be interesting to see how much the high tech giants move in on traditional medical device company’s turf.

There is plenty of debate on the subject. Some say mobile health could make half of existing medical devices obsolete. Some say even more.

What is becoming apparent is that smart communications devices—whether they’re smartphones or the new smart watches under development—have become a template allowing for plenty of health-related innovations.

Here are three of the latest developments:

1. Android Wear

Google announced this week that it is bringing its Android operating system to wearables, starting with watches and including health-tracking features. “Hit your exercise goals with reminders and fitness summaries from Android Wear. Your favorite fitness apps can give you real-time speed, distance and time information on your wrist for your run, cycle or walk,” Google announced in a blog post. Android smartwatches could be outfitted with a host of sensors including heart rate trackers, according to Reuters.

2. Apple’s Healthbook

9to5Mac's Mark Gurman was out this week with recreations of obtained screenshots of what the Healthbook will look like. They include colored tabs related to functions tracking blood work, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight. Apple appears to be serious about sensors to back up such tabs. A few months back, it obtained a pair of new patents, one related to hover touch sensors and the other an integrated heart rate monitor.

The Healthbook would reportedly be able to run on the iWatch that Apple has under development.

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at BIOMEDevice, March 26-27, 2014 in Boston.

Rumors abound. There’s the suggestion that that future iPhones would be able to detect when a user is undergoing a medical emergency and can automatically call for help. Word broke in late February that Apple is collaborating with Danish hearing-aid company ReSound to make a "made-for-iPhone" hearing aid.


iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton

3. A Galaxy for the Blind

Samsung meanwhile is out with assistive devices for blind people that work on Galaxy Core Advance phones, according to a report in Medgadget. They include an Ultrasonic Cover that could work as a virtual white cane helping the user spot objects ahead.

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 phone will launch in April and will the first smartphone to feature a dedicated heart rate monitor. Mounted near the device's flash, the monitor requires users to place a finger on the sensor to measure the pulse rate. (Apple is reportedly working on far more advanced heart rate sensors.)

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Chris Newmarker is senior editor of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.