4 tech giants rumored to be building healthcare wearables

Wearables are having their moment in the clinical space, moving beyond their perception as a consumer technology and wellness product.

Apple shook up the digital health world in September when it announced the newest Apple Watch would offer a direct-to-consumer electrocardiogram app. Four months later, Alphabet life sciences arm Verily's prescription-only smartwatch was granted FDA clearance for an EKG, and Withings — formerly Nokia's digital health business — unveiled a competing analog smartwatch with an EKG feature.

While smartwatches are in some ways the first mainstream product to get a medical-grade health spin, rumors abound about other ways technology giants are entering into the wearables market.

Four examples:

1. Apple. Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst known for his strong track record of predicting new features in Apple products, has speculated that Apple is planning to release a complete redesign of its wireless earbuds, AirPods — including new health features. A patent Apple was awarded in December hints at this vision, outlining a plan to add built-in biometric sensors to AirPods that would perform heart rate monitoring and take a wearer's body temperature.

2. Google. Google was also recently awarded a patent for in-ear health monitoring technology. This past summer, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Google a patent for a set of earbuds that measure a wearer's body temperature as they listen to music on their smartphone. The company's vision, as outlined in the patent, is to compare the wearer's temperature each day against their baseline to identify potential health issues.

3. Microsoft. Microsoft may be targeting the smart glasses market, according to one patent application published in July 2018. The patent describes a set of wearable sensors mounted on eyeglasses that would continuously measure and analyze a user's pulse waves from three different regions on their face — ultimately providing a potential way to help users measure their blood pressure, without interrupting daily activities.

4. Verily. Verily, one of Google's sister companies, was reportedly working to embed health-tracking sensors into shoes. The shoes would monitor wearers' movement, weight and falls, and could be used to identify symptoms such as sudden weight gain, according to a February report from CNBC. Verily has reportedly shown potential partners a prototype of the shoe, although it's unclear whether the project is still active.

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