Glucose-Monitoring iWatch May Give Apple a Sweet Lead in Wearables

Source: iWatch Concept by Todd Hamilton

According to market research firm IDC, wearable tech device sales will likely triple to 19 million units this year and are projected to reach 111.9 million units by 2018. Health-monitoring devices are shaping up to be an important segment of this rapidly growing market, and it’s no secret that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung (SSNLF.PK), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) are in a race to bring a successful health-monitoring wearable tech device to market.

While many of the upcoming devices promise to do everything from detecting your heart rate to keeping track of your sleep schedule, one of the most lucrative potential features could be the ability to monitor a user’s blood sugar levels. According to GlobalData research cited by Reuters, the glucose-monitoring market is projected to be worth more than $12 billion by 2017, due in large part to the growing incidence of diabetes.

For this reason, the success of any upcoming health-monitoring wearable tech device may hinge on whether it has the ability to monitor blood sugar levels. While the standard method for checking glucose is to draw blood by pricking a finger, mobile device makers are aiming to develop a noninvasive method. As reported by Reuters, Apple, Samsung, and Google have all made moves that suggest the three tech companies are exploring this area.

At the Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month, Apple unveiled a health data storage platform called HealthKit, as well as an accompanying Health app. Many industry observers believe that HealthKit and the Health app are laying the foundation for Apple’s rumored iWatch: a wrist-worn device that will feature multiple biometric sensors for collecting health and fitness-related data. Some rumors have indicated that one of the iWatch’s features will be the ability to monitor glucose.

A recent report from China’s Laoyaoba site bolstered the glucose-monitoring iWatch rumors. Laoyaoba’s sources suggested that the iWatch is awaiting certification from the Food and Drug Administration. Interestingly, an FDA memo obtained by Apple Toolbox showed that Apple and FDA officials discussed how a mobile-based glucometer would be regulated. Apple has also hired multiple medical sensor experts from companies that specialize in noninvasive health-monitoring technologies, like AccuVein, C8 MediSensors, Senseonics, Vital Connect, Masimo Corporation, Sano Intelligence, and Cercacor.

In the meantime, Samsung recently announced its own health-monitoring prototype device called Simband. While Samsung already has multiple wearable tech devices on the market through its Gear product line — including the fitness-tracking Gear Fit — the Simband is more health-focused and was unveiled alongside a health data platform called SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interaction). According to insider sources cited by Reuters, Samsung is partnering with other companies to create a glucose detection system that would flash warnings via Gear devices. The Korea-based company has also provided funding for several startups that are developing glucose-monitoring technologies.

Finally, Google has already publicly revealed its interest in glucose-monitoring through its blog. Earlier this year, Google announced that it was testing a smart contact lens that will detect glucose levels in tears. Although this technology is still in the early stages of development, it shows that Google, like Apple and Samsung, is also deeply interested in the future of glucose monitoring. It should also be noted Google is rumored to be announcing its own health data collection platform called Google Fit at its upcoming I/O developer conference that starts on Wednesday, according to insider sources cited by Forbes.

While the secrecy surrounding many these projects makes it impossible to know which of these companies is leading the race to develop a noninvasive glucose-monitoring technology, it may become a little clearer later this year, when Apple is expected to launch its rumored iWatch and additional information about other companies’ projects will likely emerge.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: