Apple vs. Google. The battle for digital health begins

It’s an exciting time in digital health right now. The industry is going mainstream, becoming more consumer focused and large well-known multinational corporations are beginning to put the necessary infrastructure in place to capitalize on the oncoming digital health revolution.

These are the cash-rich forward-thinking companies that, over the last fifteen years, have changed the way we interact with technology and, perhaps more importantly, change the way we live our lives forever. They’re about to do the same all over again but in a deeper and more personal way.

Which companies am I describing? Apple and Google of course.

Both tech giants have been on a hiring and acquiring spree in the last couple of years and both are bringing in the necessary talent, expertise and IP to take digital health in to the home and the body. Both Apple and Google and their iOS and Android mobile operating systems stand to benefit from digital health profoundly so it’s little wonder why both companies are investing in this space.

They aren’t the only tech companies investing in digital health of course but Apple and Google are investing in it in a much deeper way, particularly Google that has made a string of acquisitions in the last year. Before we look at these though, let’s take a look at the movements in digital health among other well-known consumer companies.

While it’s great to see the technology behemoths above looking at digital health seriously they fade in to comparison in terms of what Apple and Google are doing in the space. Let’s take a look at both companies. 


Picture from the Economist
Picture from the Economist

April 2012 – Announces the long-rumoured Google Glass project – a head-mounted wearable technology device with camera, display and touchpad. It’s been speculated that Glass can – and will – be used in a number of digital health related activities and Dutch technology company Philips is looking at how it can be used in the operating theatre.

Dec 2012 – Hires author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil to assist with machine learning and language processing. Kurzweil is synonymous with transhumanism and the Singularity and is a well-known author, speaker and thinker on both topics.

Sept 2013 – Announces newly formed Calico, a new company that will focus, according to Google co-founder, Larry Page, “on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”  Calico is headed up by Arthur D. Levinson who is also chairman of Genentech and Apple.  

Dec 2013Acquires Boston Dynamics, a robotics design company best known for the development of BigDog, a dog-like robot that is capable of walking over difficult terrain and has an arm that can pick up and throw heavy objects. 

Jan 2014Acquires UK startup, DeepMind Technologies, for a reported $400m/$500m. DeepMind focusses on artificial intelligence and ‘deep learning’ machines which have a human-like understanding of our environment.

Jan 2014Announces in January that it is testing a smart contact lens that can measure glucose levels. Google said on its blog “It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype.”

Jan 2014Acquires Nest Labs, the maker of a learning thermostat and smoke detector. While not directly related to digital health, this is Google’s venture in to the ‘smart home’ market. How the home monitors your health will be an important part of this market and how new connected home appliances will be tracking and advising us on making better lifestyle decisions.


Picture from the Telegraph

Feb 2013Files patents for wearable technology and “movement monitor devices.”

July 2013Hires Michael O’Reilly from digital health company, Massimo, which has developed a pulse oximeter for the iPhone (reviewed on Bionicly here)

July 2013Hires Paul Deneve, CEO of luxury fashion company, Yves Saint Laurent, to work on “special projects.” Could this be Apple bringing in expertise on how to make wearable technology for the fashion conscious?

Oct 2013Announces hiring of Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, who joins the company in the middle of this year as head of retail and e-commerce. Or perhaps to assist with bringing wearable technology (including wearable clothing) to the masses?

Nov 2013Acquires Israeli based motion sensor company, PrimeSense, for a reported $360m. PrimeSense makes technologies for a range of industries including healthcare and Microsoft’s Kinect is notably made by the company.

Jan 2014 – Hires hardware engineer Nancy Daugherty from digital health company, Sano Intelligence.

Jan 2014 – Apple executives meet with the FDA allegedly to discuss the forthcoming new app in iOS 8 called Healthbook that monitors health, fitness and workout information, via the iWatch.

Feb 2014Hires sleep research expert Roy J.E.M Raymann from Philips who is thought to be helping with the introduction of the iWatch.

Conclusion. Or who’s your money on?

Both companies have their own agenda and it’s easy for outsiders to speculate who’s doing what correctly. Apple’s movements in digital health seem very much aligned and specific to the hotly anticipated iWatch. Google on the other hand seem to have their fingers in a number of pies and have diversified their digital health investment somewhat.

My conclusion is that both will be equally successful but in different ways. The iWatch will be a huge success and will be the next evolution of the iPhone and Apple will continue to reap the rewards it has done for bringing to the market products that consumers want to buy.

Google on the other hand seems to be thinking much more broadly and, dare I say it, more innovative. The rewards are bigger but so are the risks and no doubt some of its investments will not come to fruition. Some will however and Google will move further in to the home and further in to the human body itself. As a bold prediction, I can see Google acquiring the innovative sensor company, MC10, to make this happen.

Agree or disagree?

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  1. Great update. DigitalHealth is on the horizon, still who will be responsible for the doctor- patient relationship learning curve? It will be steep, going from a 1 size fits all to a world of Genomics and Epigenetics! Technology is rapidly advancing however medical education and training is lagging far behind. There is no investment and, without that training, the agenda will be rudderless.

  2. Good post, and lots being written about this in the media. But what about data and personal privacy? That’s not getting as much coverage. I realize that’s not what you were writing about, but it’s worth noting that neither company has a good record on this, and not much on the horizon to believe it’ll get better as companies like Google and Apple salivate at the prospect of mining health and fitness data from an eager and unsuspecting public.

  3. I think Google and Apple will provide the much needed infrastructure (backend from Google, and hardware from Apple), together with others, e.g., IBM with Watson, and Samsung with their phones and watches. This infrastructure will probably start to creep even deeper into the healthcare (IT) industry (as the current players there doesn’t really seem to be able to innovate at the same pace).

    I am not so sure they (Google etc) will provide the innovative services on top of that infrastructure, but they will open up for innovation. The innovative services will come from new smaller companies, or already existing companies, with deep (healthcare) domain knowledge, building (and failing) fast on top of the infrastructure.

  4. Actually, I was hoping that these two were more interested in developing a new system of the EHR….they could have HL7 rewritten.

  5. Forays into health has taken a long time for tech companies. I am surprised that the samsung watch cannot measure pulse and do some of the things some earlier watches did. With the boomers have their health monitored there are many opportunities to make money. As a boomer I am looking onward to the innovations and products.

  6. I’m waiting for one of these two companies to buy a traditional pharma company and re-engineer it from drug discovery right through to patient adherence and beyond… this is a great time to be in healthcare!

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