March 26, 2014— -- Smartphones place so many apps and features at our fingertips, they’ve practically become an extension of our brains. Thanks to Apple, they may soon become an extension of our bodies too.
Apple technology websites are swirling with rumors about a possible Apple “HealthBook,” a full-featured app and wristband combination for health-conscious users. The website 9to5mac.com, recently showed possible screen shots from the new app and if accurate, the device’s tracking capabilities will be far beyond what existing fitness tracker gadgets can do.
“It seems pretty clear by this point that the iWatch will, when it appears, have a major focus on health and fitness. We don’t yet know exactly what it will measure, but ... it’s likely to measure more than any one of the devices currently available,” wrote Mark Gurman, a writer and reviewer for the site.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment to ABC News on the rumors or the screen shots.
According to Gurman, the Apple app will likely keep tabs on a myriad of bodily functions, including resting heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels and blood oxygen levels. It might also serve as an electronic medical record that could prove useful to patients, doctors and emergency responders. None of today’s tracking devices come close to offering this scope of data. Most estimate calorie count, mileage and steps. A few track sleep patterns, resting heart rate and exercise heart rate.
The fitness tracker market approached $85 million in 2013, representing a 35 percent jump from the year before, according to the data tracking site NerdWallet. The category is dominated by Fitbit, a company exclusively dedicated to tracking devices. It sells several styles of trackers, including bracelets and clip-ons. Nearly 70 percent of all trackers sold are Fitbit, according to a recent report by retail tracking service, NPD Group.
Related: Fitbit Does More Than Track Fitness
Even if the Apple product is a mirage, the category is already changing. Other large, established electronics brands have already begun to enter the market. Samsung’s upcoming S Band, for example, will do fitness tracking exclusively but its Gear 2 smartwatch will integrate fitness stats with email, Web surfing and phone. It will track the same basic parameters as most other fitness bands but the outstanding display is sharp and crisp with interchangeable wallpaper and a lightening quick swipe control.
The device will go on sale next month for around $200. As of now, it’s only compatible with Galaxy devices. No word on pricing or sales date for the S Band, and Samsung declined to comment.
Sony too is planning a wearable tracker device. Its Core bracelet, which will go on sale sometime this spring for a yet-to—be determined price, will include the typical fitness-tracking metrics, but Sony says it will also function as a life journal, tracking photos you took, "special moments," and other live events. When you scroll through your latest running workouts, it will show a map of your routes, heart rate highlights and your workout playlists.
Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park said he’s not worried about competing with major players like Apple.
“The biggest struggle we have is overall awareness of category. More players only legitimizes what we’re doing. It’s great for all involved, including consumers,” Park said.
Fitbit is continually looking to add new types of sensors, app features and tracking metrics, Park said, but thinks some of the proposed features by Apple and others may take the idea of fitness monitoring too far for the average person.
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“There will always a subset of people who will want as much tracking as possible. They like to quantify self and track every last aspect of their lives,” he said. “However, most people are interested in achieving their goals –- you don’t need to go too overboard to do that."
Park also said that if tracking shifts to a more medical focus, more data could be useful. But for practical and everyday goals, too much information might be overwhelming for some consumers.
“Consumers consider other things besides data. They are also looking for motivation and fashion,” he said.
Herb Baer, president of Polar USA, a company that makes heart rate monitors and fitness trackers, was critical of the idea of packing trackers with too much information.
“We are not in the camp of cramming as many pieces of technology as we can into a product,” he told ABC News. “Bombarding users with numbers does not help them understand what's really important. And numbers, in isolation, are of little value. This is why we’ve made it a priority to take numbers and turn them into useful information that helps users get and stay active.”
Napala Pratini, a health analyst for NerdWallet, said it’s hard to tell exactly how Apple's first foray into the health industry will influence the fitness tracking device space.
“It's certainly possible that third-party devices like Fitbit or Jawbone will integrate with HealthBook, but there are also speculations about the rumored iWatch's health monitoring capacity -- and the iWatch would, of course, integrate seamlessly with HealthBook,” she said. “If something like the iWatch were to be released, the fitness tracking market size and composition could change drastically."
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