New reports of Apple’s medtech hiring suggest accelerating interest in health monitoring, adding to rumors that the company is working on biomarker trackers for the the long-rumored “iWatch” and sensors that may be able to predict heart attacks. That may spell a shakeup in mHealth, should Apple decide to compete with existing players.
A handful of mHealth experts have taken jobs at Apple in recent months, including former Masimo chief medical officer Michael O’Reilly. O’Reilly was CMO at Masimo from 2008 until just last year, during which time Masimo released the 1st Apple-approved pulse oximetry system, compatible with iPods, iPhones and iPads.
O’Reilly accompanied Apple workers to a suggestive meeting with FDA officials late last year, listed on the FDA’s calendar as a meeting to discuss "mobile medical applications."
Other recent Apple hires include Nancy Dougherty, formerly involved with transdermal drug delivery devices and wearable vital signs monitoring at Sano Intelligence; Ravi Narasimhan, who worked with personal vital signs monitoring at Vital Connect; Nima Ferdosi, an embedded systems expert who also worked at Vital Connect; and Marcelo Lamego, chief technology officer at Cercacor, a former Masimo subsidiary still run by Masimo CEO Kiani.
Apple’s FDA meeting and recent hiring spree add more fuel to the speculation over the company’s highly anticipated "iWatch" technology, which Apple has yet to announce or confirm. Images leaked earlier this year suggest that Apple is also developing a "Healthbook" app for its next generation of smartphones, where users will be able to collect all of their health and fitness tracking in a single place.
The company early this year also landed a patent for a smartphone heart sensor, although that application laid out plans to use the sensor primarily for personalization and authentication.
Apple has been characteristically tight-lipped about the speculation.
Fellow tech giant Google’s (NSDQ:GOOG) was caught early this year on the FDA’s public calendar as well, leading to rampant conjecture that resolved with the company’s announcement that it was building "smart" contact lenses that could detect and wirelessly transmit blood glucose data to a smartphone or other mobile technology, potentially replacing finger-prick blood testing for diabetics. Other rumors suggest that Google is also building contact lenses that could help improve vision for the impaired or enhance vision for the non-impaired.
Rival technology giant Samsung (LON:BC94) is also working on its own Gear smartwatch, which features heart rate sensors and the company’s FDA-cleared S Health app. Samsung recently wriggled out of a small snag with South Korea, where laws branded the Galaxy S5 smartphone a medical device that would normally be required to undergo formal review before hitting the market. South Korean healthcare regulators opted to revise the language of the law to differentiate true medical-use sensors from "leisure" devices.