Apple Patents Weightlifting Tracking That Hints at iWatch

Source: iWatch Concept by Todd Hamilton

Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) rumored iWatch could be the first smartwatch to help users track and optimize their weightlifting sessions. AppleInsider reports that Apple has been granted a patent for a weightlifting tracking system. The patent, granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, details a tracking system that uses a sensor to transmit data to a separate display. The remote display can include a wristwatch, hinting at another use for the rumored iWatch.

The sensor device in the system attaches to a weightlifting bar, dumbbell, or machine, and tracks repetitions completed. The data then shows either on the sensor device’s own display, or on an external wireless display, such as the user’s watch. The repetitions data can also be saved and analyzed by the watch so that users can track their progress.

Apple hasn’t officially announced the much-discussed iWatch, but its introduction of HealthKit and the Health app for iOS 8 points to the high probability that the company will launch a health and fitness-focused device. The Health app is initially designed to pull data from third-party apps that iPhone owners already use to track health and wellness, but would likely integrate with Apple’s own as-yet-unannounced smart watch.

The iWatch rumors currently have the device featuring a curved OLED touch screen, with the ability to track sleep activity, blood oxygen levels, calorie consumption, and blood glucose. The watch will reportedly run a version of the iOS operating system, and display iMessages from a connected iPhone.

Research firm Canalys predicts that 8 million smartbands and smartwatches will ship in 2014. That number is expected to rise to 23 million units by 2015, and surpass 45 million by 2017. The smartbands and smartwatches currently on the market cater to fitness enthusiasts, and while the possibility of weightlifting tracking doesn’t signal an obvious change in the devices’ target market, Apple’s announcement of HealthKit points more in the direction that the industry is expected to shift. Manufacturers are predicted to broaden the appeal of wearable devices from a niche, fitness-focused market to the bigger market base of any consumer interested in general health and wellness tracking.

Canalys reports that FitBit dominated the market for basic bands in the second half of 2013, while Samsung (SSNLF.PK) shipped the majority of smartbands sold, with the new Galaxy Gear sparking consumer interest in the wearable device market. In the first-quarter of 2014, a total of 2.7 million wearable bands were shipped, with FitBit maintaining almost 50 percent of the market and the majority of the basic band market. Jawbone expanded its distribution of basic bands, while Nike’s (NYSE:NKE) market share dropped to 10 percent.

Nikkei reported that Apple plans to manufacture 3 to 5 million units of its wearable device per month, and has allegedly forged a partnership to integrate services with Nike. Nike is expected to exit the devices market, which it entered with the FuelBand and FuelBand SE. Apple has also partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, whose medical director for marketing and public affairs, John Wald, connects the low prevalence of health-monitoring services to a lack of devices that are easy to use, and to the lack of coordination with medical institutes.

Apple is well-poised to be an innovative player in the midst of what Canalys terms the “consumerization of health.”  Health-monitoring apps and wearable devices are expected to constitute a major market within the next few years, and because the Health app designed for iOS 8 will collect health and wellness data through platforms designed by other companies, its ability to analyze that data may position it for collaborations not only with medical institutes, but with insurance companies, preventive medical services, and even advertising.

Apple does have rivals already established or looking to jump into the wearable device arena, such as Samsung, which offers not only several smart watches, but also the S Health app. Samsung’s recently announced Simband is designed around an open software platform called called SAMI for Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions, which will be opened to developers by the end of 2014. While it’s not already established in the space, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is planning to launch a cross-platform smart watch that syncs with not only Windows phones, but also iPhones and Android phones, offering universality that could be key to gaining a strong market share.

Ultimately, Apple’s patent for a weightlifting tracking system is intended to function as one small part of a much larger platform. The most exciting implication of the patent is that Apple may be getting closer to launching its own smartwatch. If that happens this year, it’s most likely to be announced in September or October with the new generation of iPhones and iPads.

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