Could Apple's iWatch Be a Digital Health Platform?

Posted in Mobile Health by Brian Buntz on July 19, 2013

Apple’s App Store is flooded with health apps—at present, the number is hovering around 14,000. The iPhone has been used for an array of medical applications as well, from the AliveCor iPhone ECG to the IBGStar blood glucose meter, which was designed to work with the iPhone and iPod touch.

iWatch concept designed by Martin Hayek

Still, over the years, Apple has firmly stated that it has no plans to enter the medical device market. The tech giant has, however, reportedly become interested in the consumer health sector recently. The company has hired medical device professionals from companies such as AccuVein, Senseonics, and the now defunct C8 MediSensors. According to 9to5Mac, those employees could be working on Apple's iWatch product.

Assuming it takes off as some pundits expect, the smartwatch industry could be a boon to the growing health and fitness tracking space, making it possible to easily track metrics such as heart rate, activity, sleep habits, and skin temperature. There are already a number of smartwatches on the market now that track such metrics, but they represent a niche market geared primarily towards athletes. As the smartwatch industry evolves, driven by nearly every maker of consumer electronics, it could offer seamless, cloud-connected tracking of an array of health parameters.

While the smartwatch sector is now small, market intelligence firm Canalys expects it to explode, growing 900% next year, hitting 5 million internationally in 2014. While there are several reports that both Apple and Microsoft are planning to enter the smartwatch market, neither company has confirmed those plans. Apple, however, has already applied for a trademark on the name iWatch in several countries.

Apple has scooped up several formal employees from C8 MediSensors, which had been working on non-invasive continuous glucose monitors for diabetics. In an interview with 9to5Mac, C8 MediSensors' former CTO Rudy Hofmeister explained that the company had “spent a lot of time working on the technology for gathering data through skin and a lot of time dealing with the optical variance of skin. Anybody who is going to be working on wearable biometric sensors would find the experience of C8 employees invaluable.”

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz

Note: Speaking of digital health, the upcoming MEDevice Conference, held September 26–27 in San Diego, will have an entire track dedicated to the subject. Topics include an explanation of what digital health means for medical device design and regulatory considerations for mobile health products.