New Patent Tweak Suggests Apple Will Beat Samsung In Health


Shaughnessy, Haydn

June 13, 2013

When Apple collaborated with Nike on the Nike + it quickly helped Nike build a new kind of community, and behavior, around a crowd that shared running data and sought motivation and pleasure by competing virtually. The US Patent Office revealed today that Apple has applied to refine its body area sensing and monitoring IP. Apple is on the move in health.

I said yesterday that the new iOS 7 designs need to incorporate a future context for the smartphone, one where the phone is part of a broader system of services, and nobody has done more to prime this territory than Apple.

Apple exemplifies the strategy of radical adjacency that I’ve been writing and speaking about over the past two years.

Unlike Google, for example, which exhibits almost random adjacencies (Glass, autos, lending), Apple exhibits a very careful, astute broadening of its base of applications for computing technology (desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, wearable (?) all serving as an interface for customers to interact with an increasingly large cloud of services).

When Microsoft introduced the Kinect it quickly became a favorite teaching tool among surgeons.  Microsoft appears to have done little to pursue that opportunity. And that’s one major difference between the two. Apple has the smarts to broaden out. While the focus of attention lately has been on Apple’s potential in the autos vertical, its next major move must surely be in health.

In contrast to the Apple-way, stealth, Samsung has gone the whole hog and bought up a slate of health-related companies.  This is the next battle ground between the two. Who has the right strategy?

Samsung attempted a move into health monitoring with the Galaxy S3 and then made it a cornerstone of the S4 but not with a huge amount of success – nobody reviews the S4 for its health apps. Over the same period they have bought into medical imaging, for example with the purchase in January of  Neurologica. Reuters reports that they also bought a controlling stake in Korean ultrasound equipment firm Medison in 2010. Bloomberg reports Samsung in talks with X-ray and other imaging targets through 2011 and in 2012 they bought cardiac point-of-care testing solution company Nexus.

Most observers of Samsung interpret all that as a way to take on GE and Siemens, two leaders in medical imaging. However, I think it is more likely that Samsung sees a convergence point between big imaging systems and small smartphones. That’s where Apple has a lead.

The current patent tweak, reported by Patently Apple, relates to:

applications covering sports, shipping, training, medicine, fitness, wellness and industrial production. The invention specifically relates to sensing and reporting events associated with movement, environmental factors such as temperature, health functions, fitness effects, and changing conditions.

And Patently Apple has a detailed analysis of how Apple’s health related patents have evolved over the past five years – notably that has involved some conflict with other patent holders, prior to the success of Nike +. But it seems that now Apple has its hands on all kinds of movement monitoring IP.

The company is also winning favor with physicians who like to use the iPhone as a point of contact information system, for example to show patients images at bed side. But the idea is to go a stage further and use Apple “sensor strips” to do more remote sensing on vulnerable patients.

These possibilities are covered under Apple filings called personal item networks. Patently Apple speculate that improvements to the luminance and chrominance of Apple displays will have an increasingly important role to play in helping physicians to interpret medical imaging on the go.

It might also help explain why there’s been speculation around larger iPad and Samsung tablets, as these would find a ready market in health imaging. Medical would also benefit from 3D imaging, an advance that is just around the corner for smartphones.

But back to Samsung. Samsung has built a formidable capability in “old” medical imaging technology. The trick now is to render those images accurately on smartphone and tablet screens. That’s exactly what Samsung is researching at is advanced technology institute, SIAT:

better mobility and portability will lead to simpler and more accessible imaging devices while lower cost will also increase the range and scope of applications worldwide.

The issue for Samsung is how to play those innovations into the emerging market for mobile solutions rather than the traditional market for medical devices. Apple is already ahead of the game, using its experience in radical adjacencies to move coherently towards new markets. Samsung needs to learn that lesson.

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