An anonymous source told reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle that Apple has engaged Tomlinson Holman, inventor of surround sound technologies, to lead a team developing a device that can analyze the sounds of blood flow and assess heart health. The company is "heavily exploring medical devices," according to the report.
Apple is also purportedly taking an interest in vehicles, taking meetings with Tesla Motors (NSDQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk just last spring.
Rumors of Apple’s interest in medical devices have stemmed largely from reports that the company is working on its "iWatch" technology, speculated to include sensors that will connect to a new "Healthbook" iOS app for tracking various biological indicators. Apple has been mum about any such development efforts and has not spoken publicly about its interest in medical technology, but the rumor mill has been running on high since news that the company had taken meetings with the FDA.
Some are skeptical of Apple’s potential interest in medtech, noting that fields with long lead times and heavy regulation are generally not Apple’s territory.
The company has, however, hired on former Masimo (NSDQ:MASI) chief medical officer Michael O’Reilly and met late last year with FDA officials to talk about "mobile medical applications," according to the FDA’s public calendar.
O’Reilly had been chief medical officer at Masimo since 2008, and he still serves on the board of Masimo’s Foundation for Ethics, Innovation & Competition in Healthcare, according to the group’s website. Masimo last year debuted its iPhone pulse oximeter, the 1st Apple-approved pulse oximetry system compatible with iPods, iPhones and iPads.
Apple also recently hired a couple of other medical sensor experts, including Nancy Dougherty, formerly involved with transdermal drug delivery devices and wearable vital signs monitoring, and Ravi Narasimhan, who also worked with personal vital signs monitoring.
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.
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.