Over the past few years, the primary battle ground for consumer technology giants like Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (SSNLF) has been smartphones and tablets. But with wearable tech entering the picture, those companies have begun to jostle for position in a new battleground: health technology.
However, fitness trackers like Fitbit are selling like hotcakes and an aging population has embraced mobile technology.
These converging factors –wearable tech, the success of third party fitness trackers, smartphone saturation and an older mobile demographic that’s health-conscious– makes health technology an attractive target for companies looking for the next big growth market.
It doesn’t hurt that health stocks have proven to be a great investment vehicle, with regular outperformance for the sector. According to the Wall Street Journal, the S&P Health Care Index has gained 55% over the past two years, significantly outperforming the overall S&P 500.
Google (GOOG) is widely expected to introduce its own health technology known as Google Fit at the Google I/O Conference this week. There are still some pieces of the puzzle yet to be revealed, but here’s what the health technology efforts from the big three are shaping up to be at this point.
Samsung Health Technology
Massive company that it is, Samsung has been involved in healthcare for a while, with its own medical division that supplies medical equipment like ultrasound machines. This puts Samsung in competition with health stocks like the healthcare arm of General Electric (GE) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ).
It also has a head start over rivals Apple and Google when it comes to consumer-grade health technology.
The Galaxy S5 smartphone (reviewed here) has a built-in heart rate sensor, it’s released two generations of smartwatches with fitness tracking capabilities and it has its own fitness band –the Gear Fit (read our review)– on the market.
Earlier in the month, Samsung also announced a healthcare technology hardware reference platform –Simband– along with SAMI, an API that lets wearable fitness and health sensors upload user data to Samsung’s cloud. This is what Samsung calls its Digital Health Initiative, an open data and sensor platform intended to connect individuals (and their data) and medical professionals with Samsung in the middle.
Apple Health Technology
Look no further than WWDC 2014 with the announcement of iOS 8’s Health app and HealthKit to see how serious Apple is getting about healthcare technology. When the operating system powering Apple’s iPhones and iPads is released this fall, users will even be able to display their emergency medical information as their lock screen…
What’s missing from the Apple health technology picture, of course, is hardware of its own.
The company is known to be working on a smartwatch –the so-called “iWatch”– and this device may have sensors that let it track medical and fitness data. Apple isn’t confirming anything about the iWatch, but Nike (NKE) appears to be having doubts about its popular FuelBand fitness band’s future, laying off developers in what could be a move to exit the hardware business in anticipation of Apple’s iWatch being a threat.
Google Health Technology
Have you heard of Google Health? The company took an early shot at online storage of personal health data but it failed to catch on and Google shut it down in 2012. With today’s proliferation of mobile sensors, more robust cloud storage capabilities and renewed public interest in health technology, the company appears ready to leave that early disappointment behind.
The big announcements from Google are expected to take place at Google I/O conference. The rumored Google Fit initiative is expected to mirror Apple’s HealthKit –aggregating biometric and fitness data from third party sensors. There may also be partner hardware announced, packing those sensors.
Stay tuned for our Google I/O coverage, because that’s where the Google pieces of the health technology puzzle are expected to fall into place. Whatever happens, expect 2014 to be mark the beginning of a much larger trend toward consumer tech companies beginning to move into territory previously dominated by health stocks as keeping track of your well being becomes even bigger business.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.