digital health

How Samsung and Apple stack up in the race to dominate digital health

There is no love lost between Samsung and Apple. The archrivals continue to trade blows in court and in the consumer electronics market, and it seems the next frontier for their competition is in the health and fitness space.

Both companies have recently tipped their hands on health-related initiatives. Within days of each other, Samsung announced Simband and SAMI, and Apple unveiled its HealthKit, both designed to entice developers to their platforms, and provide end users with empowering big-picture details about their overall health. Let’s compare and contrast what we know about each company’s strategy.

Hardware: Samsung now, Apple later

Samsung has been all over the map when it comes to health and fitness tech. It’s the wild west of wearables out there and Samsung is the Wyatt Earp. The company currently leads the industry in breadth of offerings, touting multiple wrist companions in the form of the Gear Fit, the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo.

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Samsung's Gear Fit didn't exactly wow us with its accuracy.

Even Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone has hopped on the fit-tech trendmill with a built-in heart rate sensor, pedometer functionality, and a custom S Health app.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s offerings thus far have been plagued by inaccurate readings and lackluster user experiences. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Samsung is a pioneer and an important innovator in wearable technology.

Meanwhile, Apple has announced exactly zero wearable devices, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The company has been snapping up biometric sensor industry experts in recent hiring sprees, which has led to a slew of rumors about a mythical “iWatch,” but naturally, nothing is confirmed.

I do expect the impending iPhone 6, expected this fall, to come loaded with at least a few new and improved sensors that will allow Apple to step up their game in the fitness and health tracking realm.

Platforms and tools to entice developers

Last week Samsung announced the Simband, a new wrist-worn reference device with a modular design, allowing for easy removal and addition of sensors. Intended for developers, the Simband includes a sensor for just about everything you can think of, but the modularity allows for fine-tuned customization, which can lead to the development of new sensors, new applications, and new uses that haven’t yet been dreamed up. Another intriguing feature is the snap-on “shuttle” battery, which lets you recharge the Simband while it’s still in use.

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Samsung's Simband is a reference device for developers, not intended for consumers.

With the release of the Simband open hardware development kit, Samsung is hoping to attract sensor makers and health-minded development partners to help spur innovation and future collaboration in the wearable computing space.

Additionally, Samsung announced SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions), an open cloud services solution that wants to be the destination for all health data, regardless of what hardware or application collected it. Users could then control what data is shared with other apps or providers, allowing for a personalized experience.

The platform-agnostic approach could make SAMI a hit, if enough industry players adopt it. Imagine if your treadmill, running an unknown operating system, could send workout information to SAMI, and then your smartphone could aggregate that data into a portal that also includes the rest of your fitness activities. If everything could push and pull from one centralized data repository, perhaps we could finally get an ideal all-encompassing health and fitness tracking solution.

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Apple's Health app will debut alongside iOS 8 this fall.

This week, Apple unveiled its new HealthKit developer platform as part of its iOS 8 preview. Similar to SAMI (which was developed with the help of a former Apple engineer), this new framework lets developers of health and fitness apps and hardware to report health-related data into a centralized database, as well as to share that data with other apps or with a service provider, such as your doctor.

At the very least, the HealthKit tools should lead to a surge in new health and fitness applications for iOS, and more interoperability between them. Initial partners include the Mayo Clinic, Nike, and Epic Systems (a healthcare industry software provider).

First-party ‘Health’ apps for everyone

Samsung currently offers its own app, S Health, which comes preinstalled on various Samsung devices like the Galaxy S5. S Health provides an exercise log, a food tracker, a walking mate, a comfort level detector (temperature and humidity), a weight diary, and more. Unfortunately, S Health is isolated to the Samsung ecosystem. You can pull in data from a Samsung Gear Fit, but not from a fitness app like RunKeeper or a non-Samsung device, such as a Fitbit.

gear fit 17 Image: Michael Homnick

Samsung's S Health app currently pulls in data from Samsung's own wearables, and sensors in the Samsung phones.

Paradoxically, Samsung’s SAMI platform is just about the exact opposite of S Health in its current form. With the SAMI platform promoting cross-platform health and fitness data warehousing and sharing, I can envision a future S Health app that integrates with SAMI to provide a holistic look at all of your health data at once.

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Apple's Health app will aggregate data from multiple apps and devices.

That’s exactly what Apple’s new Health app wants to do too. Previewed at WWDC alongside HealthKit, Health will give users a customizable view of data from a variety of sources. We won’t know how well this new Health app works until iOS 8 is released later this year, but from the announcement we can see that the Health Data screen will offer menu options for Diagnostics, Fitness, Lab Results, Me, Medications, Nutrition, Sleep and Vitals.

The Dashboard screen will be able to display visually appealing charts that plot out your historicals for calorie consumption, sleep and more. You’ll also be able to create a medical ID card, accessible from the lock screen, where you can list allergies, medications, emergency contacts, and more.

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