Silicon Valley has its eye on the multi-billion dollar glucose monitoring market. According to recent reports, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are actively developing wearable devices that would allow diabetics to avoid having to prick their fingers multiple times per day.
Will Apple's iWatch be a must-have for diabetics?
Although details on these devices are scant, Apple is reportedly hoping to integrate this technology into its forthcoming iWatch or iBand, expected to be released soon.
The first generation of the iWatch probably won't contain a blood glucose monitoring feature given the number of technological hurdles that need to be overcome first. But it is an option that Apple is working hard to deliver for customers in the future.
Presumably, the iWatch would monitor glucose in a manner similar to the long forgotten GlucoWatch Biographer, namely by passing an electrical current through the skin.
The problems with this approach, however, are myriad. First and foremost, the GlucoWatch required a person to prick their finger in order to calibrate it, defeating the purpose of using a wearable in the first place.
Secondly, many users reported that the electrical current caused serious skin irritations, keeping them from using the device.
Apple's challenges with this approach are therefore daunting to say the least -- but perhaps not insurmountable.
Despite these technological and physiological barriers, Samsung has also expressed interest in developing a glucose monitoring application for its struggling smart watch, making that two major tech companies working on this approach.
Google betting on its smart contact lens
Google, on the other hand, plans to measure glucose in tears using its smart contact lens pictured below.
Again, diabetes patients shouldn't expect the initial version of this product to include a glucose monitoring application.
Measuring glucose via tears is difficult, because tears can have lower concentrations of glucose (thereby making it harder to track).
Google has been decidedly tight-lipped about how it plans to overcome the problems associated with measuring glucose in tears. Even so, the company has placed some of its brightest engineers in the Google X facility on the project, according to reports.
So will the dream become a reality?
Scientists and engineers have been chasing this rabbit for close to three decades now, without any noteworthy achievements to speak of.
So it's not surprising when an industry insider like Genetech's CEO Ian Clark calls diabetes wearables "trivial" in terms of their potential to impact healthcare outcomes.
In the end, there may simply be no viable solution to the challenges associated with non-invasive glucose monitoring. After all, we probably would have solved them following, quite literally, decades of research into the issue.
That being said, Apple and Google have one thing these former endeavors did not -- boatloads of cash. Some experts have predicted that the challenges involved in creating a viable non-invasive glucose monitoring device could cost billions to solve.
Given that such a device would probably garner multi-billion dollar sales on an annual basis, the economic incentive is certainly there. And these two tech giants appear willing to spend what it takes to get the job done.
So are diabetes wearables a coming fact? I think we'll have to reserve judgement for the time being, but it's hard to underestimate two companies that have been responsible for so many groundbreaking innovations over the years.
George Budwell has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google (C shares). 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.
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