Millions of iPhone 5 users (and soon iPhone 6 users) will be able to sport another Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) gadget next year. The company announced its first Apple Watch will launch in early 2015 as the company bids to create a brand-new market for wearable communication that is smart enough to pay for purchases, calculate your heart rate, and -- oh yeah -- tell time.
While the Apple Watch is going to be a customizer's dream thanks to interchangeable bands and watch faces, it's the Apple Watch's potential in healthcare that's most intriguing to me.
That's because Apple has already proven with its iPhone and iPad that it can create an ecosystem brimming with user-friendly apps. According to Apple, more than 1.3 million apps have been developed for the iPhone, so it's probably not a stretch to assume that developers will be looking for ways to tap into the market for the Apple Watch.
Healthcare innovators are likely to be among those developers. That's because the Apple Watch offers developers an enormous opportunity to collect, analyze, and process healthcare information.
Limited, for now
It will be a while before developers fully tap into the healthcare potential of the Apple Watch. For now, the Apple Watch is able to track your physical activity, such as the number of steps you walk and the quality and frequency of your activity, thanks to a heart rate sensor on the back of the case.
That sensor uses infrared and visible light LEDs and photodiodes to detect heart rate that can, alongside your iPhone 5 or iPhone 6's accelerometer and GPS, measure all kinds of physical movement. It knows when you're sitting and standing, and it knows when you're at the gym (and if you're spending most of your time at the smoothie bar or on the treadmill).
The Apple Watch displays this data to you using a simple and attractive three-ring display. Another app is available for cardio workouts, and the Apple Watch can even suggest fitness goals.
Huge future potential
The Apple Watch's ability to help users calorie count is helpful, but it could be even more useful if the watch is ultimately able to work seamlessly with electronic health records and wearable medical devices, such as insulin pumps.
Electronic health records could be automatically updated with health data in real time, while data from increasingly smaller and smarter implantable medical devices could create a treasure trove of information that could help determine treatment adherence, regimens, and to spot health risks more quickly.
For example, Apple's research team has been rumored to be investigating the use technology that could measure how hard the heart is working to pump blood through the body. By incorporating that technology into ear buds that are linked to an iPhone and Apple Watch, for example, patients and doctors could have a potentially game-changing diagnostic tool.
Fool-worthy final thoughts
For now, the Apple Watch is more geared toward promoting healthy activity, but that's likely to change over the course of the year as more developers roll out healthcare apps for the Apple Watch that combine various inputs, both automatically and user-generated, that may be able to provide an electrocardiograph-like view of your heart, warn you of an impending asthma attack, or help diabetics control their blood glucose levels.
Todd Campbell is long Apple. Todd owns E.B. Capital Markets, LLC. E.B. Capital's clients may or may not have positions in the companies mentioned. Todd owns Gundalow Advisors, LLC. Gundalow's clients do not have positions in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.