Apple, Samsung Taking Different Roads to Consumer Health Empowerment

Days before Apple introduced HealthKit, Samsung launched developer tools and a $50 million challenge to encourage innovation around wearables.

Samsung SAMI wearables

Apple will introduce a watchlike wearable device this fall that will be able to manage users' biometric information, the Nikkei reported June 6, four days after Apple's introduction of iOS 8 and its Health and HealthKit applications.

The device will likely use a "curved organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touchscreen and collect health-related data, such as calorie consumption, sleep activity, blood glucose and blood oxygen levels. It will also allow users to read messages sent by smartphones," said the report, citing industry sources.

Apple expects to sell up to 5 million units a year, the report added, and will partner with Nike, which has agreed to get out of the device business (Apple last summer hired Jay Blahnik, the consultant behind Nike's successful FuelBand) and focus on services.

Samsung Introduces Simband, SAMI

Apple rival Samsung plans to compete in the same space using, as ever, a different tack.

While Apple has only hinted at what it has planned, Samsung launched a Digital Health Initiative in San Francisco May 28 and made two key introductions. One is Simband, an open-hardware reference design offered to help developers in their creation of new apps, sensors and services for wearable devices.

The other is SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions), a cloud-based open software platform intended to help consumers engage with and better understand the health and fitness information that will be collected by their wearables. As Apple would days later say about HealthKit, Samsung announced that SAMI will help "break open information silos" to give individuals a more comprehensive view and better insights into their data.

In an industry first, Samsung included a heart rate monitor and an S Health suite of apps in the Galaxy S5, its latest flagship smartphone, as well as in its new round of smartwatches.

Samsung has also announced a $50 million Digital Health Challenge with a goal to "stimulate innovation surrounding the delivery of wellness-related insight through the use of highly accurate, non-invasive sensors working in conjunction with advanced algorithms."

In an introductory video to its health-based initiatives, Samsung asks, "What if your body had a voice? … What if you could ask questions and hear answers from your heart, your lungs, your muscles, your skin? What if this conversation happened every moment of every day? You would learn a lot. And you would live a better life."

To create Simband, Samsung partnered with iMec, a bio-sensing research institute that brought photoplethysmography, or PPG, to the project. PPG works by shining a light at the skin and taking note of how much is covered by tissue or reflected back. The light-based technology offers a noninvasive way to measure one's pulse, while different wave lengths, with varied reach, can scan more deeply into the body and enable the measurement of things like blood-oxygen levels.

"The combination of Simband-designed sensor technology and algorithms and SAMI-based software will take individual understanding of the body to a new level—for the first time giving voice to a deeper understanding of personal health and wellness," Samsung said in a statement.

With its Health Challenge, Samsung is inviting the developer community to leverage its expertise in semiconductors, sensors, optics, electromagnetics, algorithms and other key areas in hopes of speeding the development of "disruptive sensors and algorithms."

It has also established a Digital Health Innovation Lab at the University of California, San Francisco, as part of its effort to bring products to market faster.

Developers interested in learning more about the Challenge can fill out a form on Samsung's Strategy & Innovation Center site.

In a video of personal stories collected by Samsung to highlight the types of users it intends to appeal to, a young man tells of a journey to lose weight, a mother speaks of wanting to be active and present for her children, and a pregnant woman speaks to a mind shift in responsibility, or ownership of health data, that wearables are initiating.

"I don't really like to just trust my health to someone," she says. "I want to be really a part of it."

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