Samsung Wants All The Health Data, And It Has A Plan

Mash together most of today’s hot technology buzzwords, and you’d have a good approximation of Samsung’s newly announced cloud platform for tracking health data via wearables and sensors.

Slipping in just ahead of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference next week—during which Cupertino might well feature some new quantified health initiatives and even a possible iWatch fitness tracker—Samsung laid out its own plans for an “open platform” that would track vital health statistics and tie them to cloud services for real-time monitoring.

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics, pointed out that it’s now common for people to know more about the health and functionality of their cars than they do about their own bodies. “Our goal is, someday, you have sensors that know much more about your body,” he said.

We’re Getting A Band Together, Come Join!

The software platform—dubbed SAMI, for “Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions”—will offer open APIs so developers and partners can help Samsung build out its new ecosystem. Among the first to sign up is the University of California at San Francisco, whose researchers and software makers will get access to Samsung tools for parsing and analyzing detailed biological data.

On the hardware end, Samsung envisions a new wrist-worn gadget it’s calling Simband, which is designed to track and display data like heart rate and blood pressure. Ultimately, Samsung would like to expand that effort to include other gadgets and sensors primed to collect data via other means, such as acoustics, optics and bioelectrical signals.

The Simband also features a new battery technology it calls Shuttle Battery. This is essentially a cell that users can charge separately, then snap onto the device to charge it. The idea is to boost convenience, so users don’t have to take the band off recharging. The mere existence of Shuttle Battery underscores one of the most annoying aspects of wearable technology—charging.

Unfortunately, the Simband solution is like the coolest health wearable you can’t have: It’s more of a reference design than product, and as such, it’s not available for sale. Right now, it functions only as an “investigational device” for developer exploration, to spur interest in the platform.

The plan comes from Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center, and it’s the first major initiative from the company’s Silicon Valley-based outpost. While that’s just one part of the broader organization, the group may need to spearhead a coordinated effort across numerous Samsung categories and divisions if it hopes to succeed with this ambitious undertaking.

Samsung’s Healthy Attraction To Health

Samsung certainly knows a fair bit about health and health technology, although its knowledge and expertise is scattered throughout its diversified and semi-autonomous divisions. And it’s clearly trying hard to make an impact here, although so far without much effect.

On the mobile side, for instance, its smartphones feature S Health, a native app to manage health and fitness—albeit one that hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. On the wearables end, the company recently announced the Gear Fit tracker a few months ago, among other wrist gadgets. Samsung also makes hospital-grade medical equipment such as ultrasound scanners and X-ray machines, although its experience there might be difficult to translate into applications for ordinary consumers.

So while Samsung might look like it has a lot of the pieces it needs to make its health platform a thing, it still has a long, uphill slog ahead of it. For starters, just getting its different divisions to work together to produce attractive, consumer-friendly technology that can solve problems before the likes of Apple doing the same could be a Herculean effort.

Samsung also has what might most politely be called a mixed track record when it comes to forging new technology platforms. Its Galaxy mobile devices are big sellers, but not because of Samsung’s own apps, many of which have been little more than pale imitations of Google apps that users typically ignore. Its Tizen mobile operating system keeps chugging along, but has yet to create much of a splash.

Still, you have to give the giant points for trying. Digital health is a huge and largely untapped field, so the more competitors, the merrier.

Images from screen capture of Samsung’s live stream, courtesy of CNET

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