Forget the iWatch, Apple's next big thing is health

The Apple-sphere gets whipped into lather whenever new hardware is on the horizon, but if you take a longer view Apple has much more that a smartwatch up its sleeve.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor
Forget the iWatch, Apple's next big thing is health - Jason O'Grady
Image: marketintelligencecenter.com

Apple's got lots of "really great stuff" in the pipeline according to CEO Tim Cook, and it looks it's more than just a smartwatch. Possibly much more. 

Reading the tea leaves, all signs have been pointing to an Apple smartwatch for quite a while, but dig a little deeper and Apple's quest for better health (or possibly eternal life?) appear to be the company's next quest. 

It's no secret that Tim Cook wears a Nike FuelBand and loves it. Cook has been on the Nike Board of Directors since 2005, so his choice of fitness tracker is obvious, but it's also obvious that he cares about fitness and the "quantified self."

Cook has referred to wearable technology as "profoundly interesting" and he called the idea of wearing something on the wrist "natural." But things broke wide open when re/code's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher asked Cook "Is the future wearables?" and he responded "I think so.

But forget about the iWatch for a second, it's already a done deal. 

What we should be paying attention to is the larger picture and Apple's desire to conquer the burgeoning health monitoring market. Sure, an Apple watch should be able to tell the time, control your music, and display upcoming appointments and the weather. But that's nothing new, my Pebble smartwatch has been doing that for almost a year. (The new Pebble Steel takes things up a notch.) 

It's been said that Apple's upcoming smartwatch is more of health monitoring device than it is a watch surrogate for your iPhone and I think that it's a valid theory. In addition to Pebble a number of other Smartwatches have been on market (from Sony and Samsung to name a few) and Apple would be late to the party to announce a me-too watch product this late in the game. 

On January 31, 2014 9to5Mac broke the news that Apple's indeed working on a fitness product, dubbed "Healthbook," that's due to launch with iOS 8. According to the rumor, Apple's new product is a combination of hardware (watch, iPhone) and software (app) that is capable of monitoring your fitness (think: steps, calories, miles) and health (blood pressure, hydration, heart rate, glucose). Healthbook will be made possible with a combination of sensors and technology packed into both the iPhone and iWatch. 

Adding fuel to the fire (pun intended), The New York times reported that Apple executives Jeff Williams and Bud Tribble met with FDA officials last month about health applications. Hmmm...

Recent Apple hirings are the best indicator of what's to come from Apple. According to 9to5Mac:

Last year, Apple hired several health, medical, and fitness experts to work on these hardware and software projects. Some of the notable names include former Nike advisor Jay Blahnik and former Senseonics vice president Dr. Todd Whitehurst.

This year, Apple added Ravi Narasimhan from general medical devices firm Vital Connect and Nancy Dougherty from startup Sano Intelligence to its iWatch development team. We have also learned that Apple has also hired Michael O’Reilly, a former executive at Masimo Corporation who worked on noninvasive pulse sensors, last summer.

Yesterday a new Apple job posting appeared for a User Studies Exercise Physiologist, the obvious speculation being that the person would join the HealthBook team:

The job will require employees to "design and run user studies related to cardiovascular fitness & energy expenditure, including calories burned, metabolic rate, aerobic fitness level measurement/tracking and other key physiological measurements." The role will require application of "relevant knowledge to the design of products and their testing/validation through user studies."

On Tuesday, Apple hired Roy J.E.M Raymann from Philips Research, an expert on sleep research with extensive experience in wearables, sensors, and non-pharmacological methods of improving sleep quality. Raymann is obviously headed straight to the HealthBook team as well. 

The possibilities for HealthBook are absolutely staggering and Apple has the potential to re-invent and capitalize on the growing trend to monitor everything we do and crunch the numbers in the pursuit of better health.

Let's just stop calling it a "watch," ok?

What's your take on health monitoring sensors and apps? Is 'Health' Apple's next big thing?

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