Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) first post-Steve Jobs device, the Apple Watch, was recently released to a receptive audience. And while it's still early to issue broad judgments on whether the device is a success or failure, although early estimates appear encouraging, many people (myself included) felt as if the watch could have more compelling features from a health-monitoring and wellness standpoint.
Apparently, the omission of these features wasn't due to a lack of trying. According to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), in early development the company's intentions were to include a "state-of-the-art health-monitoring device that could measure blood pressure, heart activity, and stress levels." Unfortunately, none of those features made it on to the watch as technological problems and regulatory concerns made the inclusion of these items not feasible, the WSJ reported back in February.
However, a recent report from Bloomberg gives hope to those looking forward to those features, courtesy of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Life Sciences group, a small division within Google's secretive Google X facility famous for the company's oft-discussed "moonshots." This experimental device, as reported in Bloomberg, is a health-tracking wristband that will "measure pulse, heart rhythm, and skin temperature." Simply put, Google's band appears to be what many wanted Apple's watch to be. But it isn't that simple.
This is still in the experimental phase and not a consumer device
Before we worry about Apple's competitive position within the smartwatch market, let's all slow down a bit. First of all, Google's new health-tracking band is still in the experimental phases as Google works to perfect the model. And according to the head of Google's life-sciences division, Andy Conrad, the device wouldn't be marketed as a consumer device anyway, as the company plans for it "to become a medical device prescribed to patients and used for clinical trials."
That makes sense, as the medical community has always had problems from a monitoring standpoint. Serious and expensive medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are, in many cases, slow-developing lifestyle conditions that can be addressed more effectively with better monitoring. The value in effortless, continuous, and on-demand data should be well worth the cost of the unit for public and private insurers.
And while Conrad was explicit in saying that the device has only a medical focus, important scientific technologies have a tendency of working their way to consumer products once perfected. A good example is the Pentagon's Arpanet, which became the early underpinnings of the Internet. Now, there's a risk of actually having too much data, as more data isn't always better in medical care, but there's a definite lack of effective monitoring, and Google and Apple appear to understand this and want to help solve this critical issue.
I'm even more bullish on smartwatches and the future of healthcare
While I don't plan on buying the Apple Watch in the foreseeable future, I do think smartwatches will ultimately be a must-have device. Both Apple and Google are working hard to improve their health platforms, Apple Health and Google Fit, and are receiving buy-in from developers and device manufacturers. It appears two of the smartest technology companies ever are looking to improve healthcare through smartwatches and smartbands, and I wouldn't bet against them with my life.