smart_watch_health

The only thing technology journalists and analysts have been clamoring for more than an Apple television set is an Apple smartwatch. The company has been expected to announce an iPhone-connected fitness-tracking band for the last year — now a report detailing a new app called Healthbook, which does exactly what you’d think, has stoked those fires once again.

According to 9to5Mac reporter Mark Gurman, Healthbook is an app that allows iPhone owners to track their movement, blood pressure, and other vital signs. The app resembles Passbook, the iPhone app that manages coupons and transport tickets, and could ship with iOS 8 when it debuts later this year. But Gurman notes that some vital signs, such as blood sugar levels or respiratory rate, can’t be accurately measured with existing peripherals. Enter the long-rumored Apple smartwatch-slash-fitness tracker.

It would make sense for Apple to include health-monitoring features in any wearable product it develops. The line between smartwatch and fitness tracker is faint and growing even fainter as devices like the recalled Fitbit Force vibrate when their owner’s phone rings or display the time in addition to monitoring their steps and activity level. Consumers aren’t about to start wearing multiple wristbands — no-one wants to wear more bracelets than Johnny Depp at a summer camp — so it would be foolish not to include basic health monitoring tools in a watch.

The problem is predicting when Apple will release such a device. The company hasn’t experimented with new product categories since it released the iPad in 2010. It’s overdue for a new product category, and the wearable market is waiting for a truly disruptive product, so it seems like a foregone conclusion that Apple will eventually release a smartwatch of some kind. But until the company indicates that a smartwatch is on the horizon — or releases something like Healthbook, which seems like it was made for a smartwatch — we’ll have to keep waiting.

Reactions from around the Web

Gurman concludes his report on Healthbook’s features and interface with the following:

With hundreds of millions of existing iPhones and many more to be sold, Apple has the unique opportunity to recreate the health and fitness tracking market by pre-installing Healthbook in a future software update. After revamping the music, smartphone, and computing worlds with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Apple’s next big insight could be software for improving people’s lives. Just like tablets, pocket computers, and digital music players are now part of the mainstream, Healthbook may just be able to transform healthcare and fitness management for the betterment of society.

Gigaom imagines what Apple’s entrance into the wearables market might look like:

By creating its own device, Apple will do what it does best: build a generally bulletproof consumer electronics device that will appeal to the masses for its simplicity and effectiveness. I’d expect the first iteration to focus mainly on the Healthbook data points, along with a few other simple features: think Caller ID or iMessage alerts over Bluetooth from an iPhone and perhaps some basic music controls or Siri interaction. After that, Apple can revise and add new features on a yearly basis and disrupt the quickly growing wearables market.

Quartz notes that Healthbook might not need any advanced hardware to function:

There are other explanations for Healthbook’s lofty aspirations. Perhaps the “hydration level” tracking is just a system for inputting your daily water intake, similar to Jawbone’s new app for tracking caffeine levels. And since diabetics track their blood sugar anyway, Apple could just be giving them a place to keep track of their data, without integrating a sensor to do it passively. But if this is a glimpse at Apple’s vision of a be-all-end-all smart wearable, it could be one worth waiting for.

Pando weighs in

I wrote about the Apple smartwatch and its reported health-monitoring features last March:

If wearable computing is the future — and it certainly seems to be going that way — people will have to choose between an Apple-built, iOS-running smartwatch that also allows them to track their health and other, more specialized solutions. We only have so many wrists, and wearing more than one wrist-based device when one “smartwatch” can perform the function of other devices seems excessive at best.

I then wrote about the convergence of smartwatches and fitness trackers after the Fitbit Flex was released in October:

Consider the things a device worn on your wrist can do better than a device resting in your pocket. It can better track your steps, thanks to the swinging of your arms; it can better display information like the time or any of the numerous notifications you might receive at any moment, thanks to its easier access; and it can (theoretically) wake you up without requiring you to set an alarm that could wake the dead.

Fitness trackers have been serving two of those functions for years — now that they’re on the cusp of mastering notifications, too, we might as well start calling ‘em all smartwatches.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]