Apple launches health-centred smartwatch
Apple has finally unveiled its long-rumoured ‘smartwatch’ to the world along with new iPhones and a payment system.
At the highly anticipated event held yesterday at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in California, the US tech giant revealed the simply-named Apple Watch that acts as a health and fitness tracker, but must be used in tandem with newer versions of the firm’s iPhone.
The watch comes with an app that promises to calculate all kinds of data including heart rate, calories burned and other metrics in one place – and can also count how many stairs you climb.
Much of this monitoring software and hardware is already available through a variety of existing apps from Apple and its rivals Samsung, along with Google’s Android.
But the Apple Watch will not be available until ‘early 2015’ according to the company, with the lowest price being $349 (£215).
It is already behind its rivals Samsung, Motorola and Sony in the smartwatch department, with all three firms already having a similar products in the marketplace.
Motorola’s president, Rick Osterloh, tells the BBC that he welcomes the idea of Apple ‘growing’ the smartwatch market, even though it would compete with his own product, the Moto 360.
This is because smartwatches have yet to become must-have accessories, but Apple does of course have a history of bringing products to the market which are already catered for, and then making them more attractive to consumers through clever marketing.
Tim Coulling, a senior analyst at research firm Canalys, explains: “I’m sure that for many people, waiting to see what Apple did was a first step before going out and buy a wearable technology product, whether or not it’s an Apple one they get.”
But those within healthcare expecting significantly new updates in relation to health and wearable tech, might feel disappointed with the small amount of time dedicated to health during the firm’s latest address.
One of the largest omissions – but the most anticipated in the healthcare market – was the release of more details on the new HealthKit platform. This will allow users to pool their personal data and also share it with doctors – should they so wish.
Apple announced that it would be built into its new software package iOS8, which will be launched on 17 September, and be a part of its new range of iPhones, which are due to be launched in nine countries from 19 September.
But despite the sparse details, some are still anticipating big things from the software. “With HealthKit, Apple has initiated a consumer movement to break down the walled gardens of closed HIT systems using open application programming interfaces,” says Keith Figlioli, senior vice president of healthcare informatics at Premier and member of the Office of the National Coordinator’s Health IT Standards Committee.
“This move will allow users to share health and fitness data across applications on a secure, protected platform that they control, and should unleash a wave of developer innovation to create new wellness apps that improve the health of communities.”
Chief executive of the firm and Steve Job’s successor, Tim Cook, took to the stage in California to detail why he thinks Apple’s late arrival into the health realm is more than just jumping on the bandwagon, but rather a case of setting an innovative standard for the consumer wearable health-tech market – which so far has failed to take a hold.
On the Apple Watch (which has not been named the ‘iWatch’ as previously thought) Cook says: “This is the most personal device we’ve ever created, we’ve set up to make the best watch in the world. One that is precise. It’s synced with a universal time standard.”
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
At the same event Apple also unveiled two new, bigger and more powerful smartphones: the iPhone 6 that has a screen measuring 4.7 inches and iPhone 6 ‘Plus’, which will be 5.5 inches and more in line with a ‘phablet’ device – it being a cross between a phone and a tablet as long-established by firms such as Samsung.
Alongside these launches, Apple also introduced a new system for using its phone and watch to make credit card payments at retail stores at the event, using the industry standard NFC platform. It is only available in the US, however.
Following a familiar pattern seen at Apple launches, the selected audience present at the presentation lapped-up the details from the firm’s new consumer offerings, but those watching from outside the venue tuning in at home or the office, were met with a barrage of broadcasting technical problems leading to a ‘testcard’ place holding screen being displayed in intervals; Chinese language overdubbing the speakers; and stuttering video playback that often crashed.
Some observers were equally unimpressed with Apple’s sleek marketing hype and the products highlighted at the event, with one source noting on Twitter that whilst there are some ‘nifty’ improvements to the iPhone such as an improved camera (although only 8MB still), battery life and areas where one would expect fine-tuning, “the biggest and yet cautious cheer was reserved for its new, and rather chunky watch”.
Established health-tech sector
Apple had in June followed its Korean rival Samsung into the e-health arena by unveiling details of HealthKit.
Samsung launched its own mobile health device called Simband in May, a ‘smart’ wristband used to measure body temperature, blood oxygen levels, motion and other health metrics on a continuous basis.
Both firm’s offerings back then were not touted as potential (and instant) marketplace blockbusters, but rather ‘foundation’ platforms for third-party developers to then build upon.
Google is another tech giant to step into the health world taking on both Apple and Samsung with its ‘Google Fit’ service, which collects and aggregates data from common fitness trackers and health-related apps.
Google has also recently launched a new healthcare company called ‘Calico’ – and last month joined forces with AbbVie to help develop new treatments for conditions that affect the elderly.
Meanwhile observers will wait and see if Apple can indeed transform the marketplace as it has done so previously for tablets, and also arguably for smartphones via its latest iOS8 release, in the realm of health.
Apple has been experiencing a torrid time in relation to privacy matters of late which will no doubt have influenced certain aspects of its presentation on Tuesday, as just two weeks ago Forbes noted that the firm was warning developers: “Don’t share data you’ve collected using HealthKit.”
The company’s iCloud was subsequently hacked not long after, and nude celebrity photos were stolen from the accounts of actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton, as well as dozens of other celebrities, leading many to question the safety of cloud-based services in general, not just Apple servers.
But of course what would undoubtedly worry pharma and the healthcare industry are concerns around whether Apple can protect patient and confidential business health data in relation to its new offerings – once in full commercial swing.
Privacy was addressed at Apple’s latest launch in California, but only connected to its new payment system and how vendors can not see sensitive user data – not healthcare tracking results and how they might be shared with third party organisations, or intercepted by hackers.
But healthcare tech journalist Haydn Shaughnessy believes Apple may well have earned kudos making a move into the healthcare arena, although he notes with caution that: “Samsung is in the diagnostics business, has a lever on the health insurance model, has the mobile platform and ideas on how to integrate and analyze the data. As mobile becomes more and more about the service, the Apple Samsung rivalry is set to grow.”
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