Google revealed to Bloomberg News Tuesday that its X division is developing an experimental wrist band with sensors that "can measure pulse, heart rhythm and skin temperature, and also environmental information like light exposure and noise levels."
Andy Conrad, the head of the life sciences team at Google, told Bloomberg that the band is intended to be used as a medical device by patients and in clinical trials. If it moves beyond this experimental phase, what ever they eventually call this health band will be a major step beyond the current selection of Android devices into something new.
As soon as I read this news, I thought that this is the big opportunity that Apple left on the table with its Watch when it chose not to launch with additional health monitoring sensors. Their apparent reasoning: The Apple Watch would not be a medical device, which means it wouldn't need the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.
Future Apple Watches may be able to collect health data, perhaps just by updating the software to activate additional functions in the current heart rate sensor that could measure blood oxygen levels.
While the chess pieces are still being placed around the board, Apple and Google are moving towards enabling more health data collection through wearable computers. Eventually, making the Apple Watch into a medical device capable of monitoring health data may well be an economic opportunity that's too big for the biggest technology company in the world to ignore.
Apple has already positioned ResearchKit as platform for participation in studies for iPhone users. Smarter Watches could follow. If so, fitness tracker Fitbit may think differently about Apple as a competitor.
In the meantime, Google appears to have a prototype that they're going to test in trials later this year. The company is looking for a manufacturing partner to create it.
It's likely to be years before Google "healthbands" are prescribed to patients or distributed in trials, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them on the wrists of early adopters in the tech industry in California sooner, along with more capable Apple Watches in hospitals around the world.