Apple is suddenly really interested in health tech

We know Apple CEO Tim Cook loves his Nike (s nke) FuelBand. And the fitness-tracking wristband seems to be inspiring how the company is thinking about its own wearable device: it’s begun hiring several experts in health tech.
As first reported by 9to5Mac, Apple(s AAPL) has been bringing on board experts in sensors that monitor the human body. They’re from companies like AccuVein, C8 MediSensors and Senseonics.
The report doesn’t name specific hires from AccuVein — which makes medical devices that can help detect a person’s veins from outside the body — but said Apple has recruited scientists from there.
Two specific names that were reported:

  • Ueyn Block, who left C8 MediSensors in January, was hired by Apple in March as technical lead for optical sensing, according to his LinkedIn profile.
  • Todd Whitehurst, in charge of team that developed an “implantable continuous glucose monitor” at Senseonics, was hired by Apple in the last few weeks as a director of hardware development.

C8 MediSensors went out of business, but Apple hired several of its former employees, according to the company’s former CEO:

During a phone call, the former CTO told us that the company broke down because the glucose-level-analysis technology was facing issues surrounding the consistency of data readings. When the company dissolved, Apple moved aggressively to hire several C8 MediSensors directors and engineers, including designers and scientists that specialize in machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence that focuses on interpreting forms of data), Hofmeister said.

The future of wearable tech: where does Apple fit?

The wearable technology market is expected to grow immensely in popularity in the next few years: one firm estimates the 500,000 smartwatches that have shipped so far this year will explode to 5 million units by the end of 2014. The optimism built into the numbers comes from the long-held assumption that Apple will do its own smartwatch. But lots of big consumer electronics companies will help bring the devices into the mainstream: that may include Microsoft, Motorola and Samsung, in addition to entries from smaller, niche companies like Pebble.
But wearable computing includes far more than watches. There’s Google Glass,(s GOOG) of course, and simple fitness-tracking, wrist-worn devices like Nike’s, and products from Jawbone, Fitbit and others. Clothing with sensors in them will be part of the mix too, like Heapsylon’s smart socks that infuse material with sensors that track body processes and movements.
The frequency of reports about the progress of Apple’s wearable device project have picked up in recent months. The company has registered the “iWatch” trademark in several countries, and is said to still be hiring hardware engineers to work on it.
But will it be an actual watch? Based on the kinds of people Apple is hiring, the device may have a health or fitness component to it that will take advantage of the company’s vast third-party app platform and its expertise in mobile hardware. It will probably tell time, and it may be worn on the wrist — Cook has said he finds that area “interesting.” Still, “watch” is a little too simplistic considering the kind of sensors it’ll likely have inside it.