Smart watches that can predict heart attacks. Personal health information in a database that can give you a "wellness score" of how you're eating, sleeping and exercising. An always-on connection to doctors that gives them a real-time look at your health. Heck, maybe even a prescription wearable.
The next wave of wearable tech and app development is likely to center on personalized health and medicine — and Samsung tried to stake its claim on that field in an event in San Francisco this week.
The company's innovation and strategy team announced plans for an "open" platform so that developers, medical professionals and hardware makers can push forward the idea of "intelligent digital health."
Samsung did not, unfortunately, announce a release date for its new platform other than "later this year," around the time of its Samsung Developer Conference. (The last developer conference was in October 2013, for purposes of speculation.)
The company announced both a hardware platform and a cloud-based storage and analysis concept.
On the hardware side, Samsung showed off a prototype called the Simband, which features smaller, more modular tracking sensors than currently exist, and which supposedly offers better battery life than existing wearable devices. The Simband won't go into production (you're stuck with the Galaxy Gear Fit for now), but is intended to provide a reference for future hardware developers.
Samsung demonstrated how the watch could track things like heart rate, blood pressure and electrocardiography (ECG) in real time.
Samsung's design heavily emphasizes wrist-based wearables, with Samsung's vice president of digital health, Ram Fish, saying the wrist is the only location for a "truly wearable wearable." I find that slightly limited thinking, but if future sensors really are small, modular and have great battery life, I hope to see more personalized wearables along with the personalized health data.
On the storage and analysis side, Samsung revealed a cloud-based platform called SAMI (for Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions, obviously), and said it would act as a sort of bank where people can store the data collected by new health and fitness wearables.
That's the scary part, and Samsung sought to reassure the crowd that the SAMI database would store health and fitness data, but wouldn't own it — emphasizing that individuals need complete control and access to their own health data, which could only be used with their permission. The company promised security, but didn't provide details during or after the event about what kind of security might be used.
There was a whiff of vaporware to the event, given that application programming interfaces (or APIs) for Samsung's cloud storage platform won't be available until the end of the year, and the company hasn't announced a single hardware or software partner committed to working on devices or apps based on the platform.
Samsung has been working with the University of California, San Francisco, since February to develop an innovation lab focused on digital health technology, however. And the company announced a $50 million challenge fund to help spur developers to jump on board.
The company may have hurried its announcement of a major health initiative, given speculation that Apple might announce a health and fitness app calledHealthbook.
If those reports are true, Healthbook could track blood pressure, hydration, glucose levels and take in data like calorie consumption and daily activity. Apple has reportedly met with the United States Food and Drug Administration to talk about mobile medical technologies and has reportedly hired several medical device experts in recent months.
Wearable devices have been looking for a so-called killer app to make them indispensable, and personalized health, fitness and even medicine could be that use case. With the right amount of information, experts say wearable devices can predict problems before a person even feels symptoms.
A new generation of biometric devices — whether wrist-worn wearables or T-shirts like the one mycolleague Nick Bilton recently wrote about — could constantly gather data about us and communicate with apps for analysis and insight or, even better, with our doctors and medical specialists.
That could, as Samsung put it in its San Francisco event, start to push medicine from "reactive" to "preventive health."
I have my doubts that Samsung's open platform will get off the ground, especially since Samsung has a vested interest in apps and hardware that work with its own so-called ecosystem. And security and privacy will be top of mind for skittish users who have already been the subject of far too many security breaches in recent years.
But it's an interesting opening salvo in what's likely to be an intense wave of development and tech dollars. Could we see a health and fitness platform war between Apple, Samsung and maybe Google?
Possibly. If the result is more accessible, personalized health tracking and a more modern medical industry, I'm interested. Start with the security details and we'll go from there.