Samsung makes play for wearables and digital health

SAN FRANCISCO — Already the top smartphone maker, Samsung is hoping to take a lead role in what many expect to be one of the next big electronics markets: wearable technology.

At a press event here on Wednesday, the Korean electronics giant announced that it is trying to spur the development of wearable devices by creating a prototype device that could be customized with a wide variety of sensors and a cloud-based service intended to bring together and help make sense of the data collected by those sensors. The focus of the devices, sensors and service is to collect information to improve users’ health and fitness, company officials said.

Samsung plans to open both the device prototype, dubbed Simband, and the cloud service, called SAMI, to outside manufacturers and developers.

“This is just the beginning,” said Young Sohn, the company’s president and chief strategy officer. “We invite you to join us.”

Samsung entered the wearable game last year with the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Earlier this year, the company rolled out the Galaxy Gear 2 and the Gear Fit smartwatches.

But those devices use proprietary technologies and only work with Samsung devices.

By contrast, Samsung envisions having third-party manufacturers develop products based on Simband as well as creating custom sensors and components for it. And it plans to allow software developers of all stripes to be able to tap into SAMI.

Samsung plans to make the Simband prototype and a software development kit based on it available to developers later this year. The prototype will include sensors that will be able to measure users’ heart rates, blood pressure, blood flow, body fat and skin temperature. It will also include an electrocardiogram.

The SAMI service, which stands for Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, will allow developers to combine data from disparate sources, not only from sensors on smartwatches and other wearables, but also from other connected devices, including cars and smart thermometers. The service could be used to track consumers health over time or to automatically trigger events in smarthomes, such as turning on the air conditioning when it senses that a user is hot.

Data collected by SAMI will be under users’ control and won’t be shared without users’ consent, Samsung said.

Samsung officials didn’t say when they expected the first devices based on Simband or integrating SAMI would be available.

While wearable technology is still a nascent market, the health care industry is huge and growing, with health spending comprising more than 17 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

Photo of Samsung’s Simband prototype courtesy of Samsung.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (255 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.