Samsung announces Simband, a wearables dev kit, to cement leadership in digital health

The big consumer electronics powerhouses see gold in the digital health revolution, but Samsung isn’t satisfied with merely prospecting for nuggets—it wants to sell pickaxes to its competitors and run the whole darn general store.

On Wednesday, Samsung announced not another consumer-ready wearable activity tracker like the Gear Fit, but instead a sweeping open development platform for other companies to adopt in their own quests for the perfect wearable fit-tech device. The Samsung Simband is a “modular reference platform for wearable health sensors,” says Ram Fish, Samsung’s vice president of digital health. 

The Simband’s components span the entire wristband, and the device will support sensors to measure blood oxygen and CO2 levels, heart rate, hydration levels, skin temperature, galvanic skin response (perspiration), and, of course, motion. 

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The Simband can reveal an unprecedented level of real-time health data, including ECG data.

The prototype that Samsung demo’d on stage wasn’t pretty. And it was honking big. But this isn’t a consumer product. It’s a hardware development kit that Samsung plans to make available at its developer’s conference later this year. And as you can see from the GIF above, the hardware’s complement of sensors would seem poised to blow away anything currently available on the consumer market.

All the Simband’s data can be shared—securely, with user opt-in—with a broad cloud-based development platform called Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions, or SAMI. Samsung’s goal is to assume a leadership position in health-focused wearables, with Simband and SAMI becoming the de facto development space for smaller start-up to realize the Next Big Thing.

The South Korean powerhouse has also engaged the University of California San Francisco medical team to share its expertise in validating SAMI data and improve the algorithms that consumers will ultimately look to for insights. “In the end, it’s all about data—a massive amount of very complex, diverse data,” said Luc Julia, Samsung’s vice president if innovation. “SAMI is the data broker that makes it easy collect any kind of data. It’s agnostic.”

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Samsung’s announcement comes at a time when all the big tech companies are rushing to capitalize on wearables fever and the digital health craze.

Exhibit A: Intel recently bought Basis, a pioneer in sensor-driven activity tracking. Exhibit B: Apple has been hiring sensor experts at a fever pitch, and is expected to announce its own digital health platform, presumptively called Healthbook, at its WWDC developer’s conference next month.

And now Samsung wants to lead in the fit-tech space from origin to terminus, from entrepreneurial R&D to retail shelves. It’s a bold plan, but almost a tacit admission that Samsung’s currently available digital health products—see Gear Fit hardware and S Health software—aren’t delivering on consumer promises.

Will upstart wearable tech companies buy into Samsung’s new digital health initiative? They surely must, for Samsung’s sake, because Simband and SAMI certainly won’t receive traction among big-time competitors.

But look at that GIF above. Look at the detail and granularity of the real-time data. If this tech is legit, then health-tracking wearables are about to make a great leap forward. The onus of responsibility will then shift to users to put their new personal data to actionable good use.

Updated at 11:10 p.m. PT with a video report from IDG News Service.

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