Samsung Throws Kitchen Sink onto the Wrist

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Yesterday phone and electronics giant Samsung rushed out its next step in health related hardware. Samsung was clearly trying to get this out the door and in the press before Apple’s forthcoming announcement of something health-related –or I assume that’s what their industrial espionage told them Apple was about to reveal (just kidding guys!). And some people (well, Techcrunch) were clearly unimpressed.

The most compelling moment which I captured (poorly) in the video above was the demo of the new SIMBAND–albeit a concept rather than an available product. (In fact a couple of their partners told me that no-one outside the company has one). In the SIMBAND are a stack of new sensors which attempt to use the wrist to monitor not only heart rate, but blood pressure, temperature, EKG and do it all continuously. You can see a rather better video of the demo from Gizmodo, which I cued up to start at the right place.

They also announced a fully open platform (what at Health 2.0 we dub the Data Utility Layer) called Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions (SAMI) to accept and spit out all types of health related data.

This is all potentially very impressive. Samsung’s first two attempts at Smart Watches have fizzled, but they tend to keep coming back, and now are pretty much the best at Smart Phones. (You fan bois can keep your teeny iPhone screens!) But can they make the health related smartwatch work? I’ve three quick assessments/questions.

1) They are loading up the wrist. Others struggle with pulse. CNET’s Sharon Profis just tried out some wrist band pulse monitors and Basis, Withings Pulse & Samsumg Gear Fit all basically flunked out when the going got tough.

The results were clear: most of the trackers employing optical sensors were only accurate (or close to accurate) at my normal resting heart rate of about 70-80 BPM. The Garmin VivoFit, a device that employs a chest strap, was expectedly dead-on at accelerated rates after exerciseH

Howeverm in addition heart rate SIMBAND is adding EKG, blood pressure, temperature & more. The obvious question is, will it work?

2) Samsung is stressing “open” everything–and I confirmed this with a couple of partners who are getting access to software and hardware specs. This is in contrast to another smart phone company you may have heard about….

The data utility layer play may be the most interesting of them all. There is a lot of complexity here, but if you can imagine Samsung supporting an ecosystem of different data types, including perhaps other medical data from devices and other non-device data, there may be a huge play here. Again very early days, but I’ve been saying someone has to put all this data together and allow others to build the dashboards and control systems for professionals, consumers and most importantly consumer advocates. Qualcomm Life (FD-I’m on their advisory board) is heading in this direction and Samsung now has stated its intention here too.

3) Finally, Samsung’s desire to make the one data utility layer to rule them all means that they are lining up partners from the get-go. I met Health 2.0 stalwarts TicTrac and Dacadoo (both originally European) who were partnering with Samsung–in fact TicTrac built a new dashboard that was featured in the session. And I saw MyFitnessPal‘s CEO outside, although he told me they were just looking at this stage. And there were many others I probably didn’t see in the scrum at the meeting.

Samsung is lining up the pieces and has a sensible strategy. I think this is a big deal for the future of what is essentially continual quasi-medical grade monitoring. But it’s complicated, given that no one has cracked the wrist, so to speak. And no one has really created that continuous data platform.

Will it work? We’ll see. If it does work then I think the health care world as well as the fitness world will need to pay attention.