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Why a health-focused iWatch won't kill smartwatches like the iPod killed audio players

Jon Phillips | Feb. 4, 2014
When 9to5Mac reported Friday that an app code-named Healthbook will be a cornerstone of iOS 8 and the rumored upcoming iWatch, you could almost hear existing players in the wearables market fumbling around in their medicine cabinets, hunting for Xanax.

When 9to5Mac reported Friday that an app code-named Healthbook will be a cornerstone of iOS 8 and the rumored upcoming iWatch, you could almost hear existing players in the wearables market fumbling around in their medicine cabinets, hunting for Xanax.

It's always bad news for the competition when Apple enters an immature technology space. Remember how the iPod killed portable MP3 players in the early 2000s? Indeed. And wearable tech manufacturers would have good reason to take the 9to5Mac story seriously, as the article was written by Mark Gurman, whose Apple rumor reports have an uncanny track record for proving at least partially true.

Referencing anonymous sources, Gurman writes that the Healthbook app will be capable of "monitoring and storing fitness statistics such as steps taken, calories burned, and miles walked." That sounds like standard fare for any activity-tracking wristband, but Gurman also writes that Apple's rumored iWatch will have sensors for measuring blood pressure, hydration and heart rate.

Reality check: Current tech is limited
Heart rate monitoring is already well-established in the activity-tracking wristband space. Basis currently offers this feature, and Epson will integrate heart rate monitoring in its Pulsense wristbands. But blood pressure and hydration monitoring? These aren't simple tricks.

There's a form of perspiration monitoring in existing technology from Basis and BodyMedia, but it's used in the service of tracking calorie burn, and not to determine whether our bodies are properly hydrated. As for blood-pressure monitoring, there are already wrist-worn monitors on the market, but they're big and bulky, and function like standard medical equipment. Sure, it's possible Apple has a miracle solution that allows for accurate blood-pressure monitoring via simple skin-to-iWatch contact, but I just don't see this level of miniaturization in 2014.

"It's very unlikely that the iWatch rumored for later this year will feature the capabilities speculated in the article," Basis CEO Jef Holove told me in an email. "Based on the rumors being reported, my read is that the software aims to integrate data coming from many sources, from user input to specialized medical devices. Apple has historically demonstrated a priority on the design, size, and battery life of their devices, and favors well-established technologies over experimental ones. All of those priorities conspire against the likelihood of seeing a watch like the one imagined later this year."

To Gurman's credit, his article says Apple's upcoming wearable will "seemingly" include sensors for some of the more exotic health-tracking tricks mentioned above. It's clear he's delicately painting a picture based on incomplete information. But even if Apple's upcoming wearable offers only baseline features, shouldn't every smartwatch and activity tracker company be concerned?

 

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