Is Apple preparing to launch the iDoctor, iDrugs or even iHospitals? The technology giant has hired a swathe of leading biomedical experts prompting speculation that the company is planning a move into the health sector.
At least six experts in biomedicine have been signed up by the company over the past year, with more tipped to join. Some of the hires work in sensor technology, an area Tim Cook, Apple Chief Executive, said is primed “to explode.”
Apple is preparing to launch its iWatch, a wearable device which could monitor blood-sugar levels and nutrition. Cook is promising new product categories this year and in February, Apple filed a patent for a smart earbud that could track steps and detect gestures of the head.
One mobile health executive, who spoke with an Apple executive from the iWatch team, told Reuters that the company has aspirations beyond wearable devices, and is considering a full health and fitness services platform modelled on its apps store.
Apple has poached biomedical engineers and hardware experts from companies developing wireless health sensors, including Vital Connect and Sano Intelligence, and from “early-stage medical device” firm, O2 MedTech.
Ted Driscoll, of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Claremont Creek Ventures, which specialises in digital health and medical devices, said Apple appeared focused on recruiting engineers with experience in “monitoring the body’s perimeters."
The recruitment drive has unnerved some biotechnology firms. Joe Kiani, CEO of leading technology firm Masimo Corp, which created a radical new pulse oximetry device and recently lost its chief medical officer to Apple, said: “Some of the talent (Apple recruited) has access to deep wells of trade secrets and information. They are just buying people. I just hope Apple is not doing what we’re doing.”
Daniel Kraft, chairman of the FutureMed program that explores developing technologies and their potential in biomedicine, said the first version of the iWatch might track blood pressure and heart rate, among other vital signs.
He expects Apple to develop a device that could continuously monitor glucose levels without needing to draw blood.
Four years after unveiling the iPad, Apple is under pressure from investors to bring new, innovative products to the market. It faces competition in the medical technology sector from Google, which is already exploring contact levels that can monitor glucose levels in tears.
Apple may face regulatory hurdles if it moves into wireless health sensors. Company executives met with senior officials at the US Food and Drug Administration, to discuss the regulator’s concerns over attempts to turn a smartphone into a medical device, through apps which might measure lung function or analyse urine.
It was also disclosed that Apple has granted Angela Ahrendts, the new head of its retail empire, up to £40 million in stock options as she takes up her new post.
Ms Ahrendts joined the iPhone-maker last week, from luxury clothing firm Burberry where she was one of the best paid executives in the UK.
Her stock award coincided with Apple's share price this week hitting $600 for the first time since the end of October 2012, pushing the value of Ms Ahrendts’s options to £40 million.
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