Apple goes big on health monitors, bigger on iPhone: Speculation mounts over watches and larger screens to match smartphone rivals
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Not content with dominating the market for digital music, smartphones and tablets, Apple is about to outline a future in which wearable devices monitor everything from our heart rate and caffeine intake to saturated fats, blood sugar and oxygen levels.
At its biggest launch event yet, on 9 September in Cupertino, California, Apple is widely expected to announce a health-based wearable device that will help capture biometric data about activity, setting its sights on the $3tn (pounds 1.8tn) US healthcare industry.
Its first partnerships with hospitals and health organisations were announced in June with the launch of the Healthkit software for developers. The software will allow developers to build bespoke health apps for a broad range of medical needs. Crucially, Apple claims, the user will retain control of the data but can share it with a doctor if he or she wishes.
Dr Mohammed Al-Ubaydli runs Patients Know Best, a startup that helps patients and doctors share medical records securely. "Healthcare is fundamentally an information industry," he says. "It's about knowing the right thing about the right patient at the right time. The information tools currently available are poor, and there's a large opportunity for tech companies to fix that."
Healthcare is a potentially lucrative market, worth about 10% of the economy of developed nations. In Britain, more than pounds 100bn a year is spent on the NHS, according to the Department of Health. Ubaydli says: "The only way to provide more healthcare for the people living longer and growing older, without more money, is to use technology."
The 9 September event will also unveil Apple's highly anticipated larger iPhone, with a 4.7in screen to compete with bigger smartphones from its rivals Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony, as well as Microsoft. With 48% of US smartphone users expected to upgrade their handsets in the next 12 months, Apple - under the leadership of its chief executive, Tim Cook - hopes the launch will trigger its biggest sales period yet.
It will mark the biggest change to the dominant smartphone since its inception in 2007, a response to pressure from competitors' smartphones with 5in-plus screens that have proved popular. A 5.5in iPhone is also expected, although it may not appear immediately.
The new iPhone is expected to have a more scratch-resistant screen. Apple has patents and expertise in sapphire crystal - the third-hardest mineral - suggesting that the iPhone could have a sapphire screen similar to those used on high-end watches. Apple is also expected to introduce a mobile payments service that would use the iPhone like a credit card to pay for goods. A Financial Times report indicated that Apple would build contactless, short-range secure communication technology into the iPhone that probably links in with its Touch ID fingerprint sensor for authorising payments.
The company has one of the largest databases of payment details in the world, with about 800m credit cards on record through its existing iTunes store. It could use them to ignite the mobile payments market, which has struggled to take off.
For Apple, it is more than gadgets; it is about data and what can be done with that data, and it has partnered with Cambridge University Hospitals NHS in the UK, and Mount Sinai, UCLA Health and Stanford Hospitals in the US, among other healthcare institutions.
But the company told developers this week that it would be strict on data privacy and that they must not sell user data to third parties. They will be able to share data for medical research purposes, but only with explicit consent from the user.
Companies such as Nike will be able to collect health data on users through Apple's new Health app, which will launch for new and existing iPhones in September, providing information for both the individual and the healthcare industry.
Fitness trackers and smartwatches are an expanding market, with 9.7m wearable devices sold worldwide in 2013 and 22.3m forecast to be sold by the end of 2014, according to the research firm CCS Insight.
Apple chief Tim Cook has high hopes for the larger iPhone, and a smartwatch is also thought to be on the way
Main photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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