Apple iWatch: The Future of Medicine?

A lot of buzz and rumors surround the growing wave of wearable technology. Apple’s foray into the market is expected to come this fall with a strong focus on health apps and sensors. Numerous other companies are also pushing the market in this direction, albeit no one seems to have found the golden goose quite yet. Taking into account the focus on medicine and Apple’s history of ingenuity, the Apple iWatch is expected to push into uncharted medical technology territory and could even be part of medicine’s new future.

According to Reuters, the new smartwatch will likely feature a slightly rectangular, 2.5 inch display with a touch interface and wireless charging capabilities. However, The Verge website speculates that the device will in fact come in a variety of shapes and designs in order to cater to different demographics, and that Apple has already hired a number of key personnel from the fashion industry. There is no doubt the new device will be just as distinct and stylish as the company’s previous products, which could help differentiate it from the competition.

Despite all the hype and excitement, the iWatch is not the first example of wearable technology. Google already announced Android Wear, a version of their smartphone operating system designed specifically for wearable accessories. Samsung has also released a number of smart watches, such as the latest, Galaxy Gear. However, some of their earlier products have not performed well. TechHive criticized Samsung’s Gear Fit for lacking app support, camera and voice controls. Samsung’s technology so far appears to be just a glorified watch or activity tracker, and according to the review, it does not even do that very well. Motoral and LG Electronics are expected to release their own wearable technology as well, most likely relying on Android Wear.

With the smartphones already providing plenty of day-to-day functionality, the future of Apple’s iWatch and other wearable technology may just be in medicine. The new device will be launching with over 10 different sensors for monitoring health, including blood pressure or hydration level sensors. No longer will the wearer be burdened by having to pay attention to their thirst or hunger cues. The medial use goes far beyond that, however. Apple has announced HealthKit, an app for collecting and sharing data from other third-party sensory devices, as well as Health, an app for monitoring this data on the iPhone. On top of that, the company has hired a number of engineers and executives from the medical field.

Google Glass has also been finding good use in the health industry, albeit more so from the doctor’s perspective. The smart glasses allow the pediatricians to easily take photos and recordings during consultations and automatically link them with patients’ records. Combined with Box Inc.’s cloud server, the data is instantly accessible to any other health professional on the network. The technology could potentially greatly enhance the efficiency of medical recording and cut down on the paperwork.

It still is not entirely clear if consumers really desire these smart, wearable devices. Google Glass has been heavily criticized for its poor design and timing, and most smartwatch technology has not been selling well, either. World-wide shipment has totaled about 2.9 million units in the first quarter, compared to 300 million smartphones in the same time frame, as reported by ABI Research.

AppleThe iWatch could be a slow burner, however. After all, Apple sold only 1.1 million iPhones in the first quarter when it became available in 2007. Their iPad was also ridiculed for being nothing more than a bigger iPhone (without the ability to make phone calls), yet found its place in a whole new niche. Omar Siddiqui, the chief executive of mobile game development studio Kiwi, stated that “there are so many other use cases that we may not have thought of yet.”

If Apple’s history of i-revolutions and medicine-app focus is anything to go by, the new iWatch’s future holds a lot of promise for being the proverbial next big thing. Together with other wearable sensors, it could prove a literal life-saver for many individuals with diseases which require frequent monitoring. Tediously waiting for a doctor’s appointment to get a basic diagnostic test could be replaced by simply glancing at one’s wrist. Diabetic patients might one day do away with daily blood tests and  could even receive reminders when their blood sugar drops dangerously low. Connection to WiFi could also mean automatic notifications being sent to one’s doctor or even the local hospital in case of emergencies. The technology is still new, but the potential medical applications are already very promising.

By Jakub Kasztalski

The Wall Street Journal
The Verge
Guardian Liberty Voice

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