It’s a good news/bad news situation for fledgling mHealth (aka mobile health or digital health) companies. The startups are working in a market that combines consumer technology with medical devices, meaning they are at the mercy of fads but subject to FDA regulation. The market is small but growing. The business opportunity has drawn the attention of some of the world’s largest technology companies including Google, Samsung, and now Apple. The traditional exit for technology and medical device startups has been acquisition by large players. The good news is that there are more large players in the market than ever – also good for market validation and prospective partnerships. Of course, big competitors can be bad news too. Look out indeed, mHealth startups, here come the tech companies!
Google recently announced it is developing a contact lens that will monitor glucose levels in the tears of patients with diabetes. The device, developed partly at the University of Washington, could also provide patients with alarms when their levels are too high or too low. This is a natural to be combined with mobile technologies like smart phones and Google Glass devices. I’m sure the researchers are already identifying what else could be monitored via a smart contact lens.
No one could have avoided the general hype and hysteria about Google Glass over the past year or so. And the device is still in beta! Notwithstanding all of the snarky comments about looking like a cyborg and potential privacy issues, there are a number of useful applications in healthcare for healthcare workers and for patients who adopt Google Glass technology. The prospect of a head-worn see-through display with always-on video and voice access to information and colleagues provides for powerful advantages once the bugs are worked out and applications developed.
Now it looks like Apple is getting ready to enter the mHealth market. Recent reports have Apple hiring experienced medical device engineers with backgrounds in biosensors and wearable devices. Perhaps the long-rumored Apple smart watch will make its debut soon.
Anyone who is familiar with consumer technology knows that wherever Apple is present, Samsung won’t be far behind. The archrivals have been battling each other in the smart phone and tablet markets for years and have also fought in patent courts around the world. Samsung beat Apple to market with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch in 2013. That device has received a lukewarm reception from consumers, and it doesn’t have any unique mHealth capability. Samsung is famous for iterating and improving its offerings, so I would not be surprised to see a second generation Galaxy Gear with mHealth apps and functionality.
Notably, Samsung applied for and received a 510(k) marketing clearance for its S Health app on its flagship Galaxy S4 smart phone. Also of note in mHealth, Samsung has invested several million dollars in mHealth startup Glooko, which develops apps and devices for diabetic monitoring.
Of course, just entering a market does not equate to dominance or even success. After four years of effort, in 2012 Google famously abandoned its Google Health attempt to provide consumers with personal health records. I think the biggest reason for the service’s demise was that it didn’t really “do” anything useful. The story of Google Health shows how industry outsiders may not understand the dynamics of the market.
Takeaways: The presence of large competitors can be a little daunting but it’s generally positive. The presence of big companies like Google, Samsung, Apple, and others provides validation of market potential to investors and partners. They can also become partners and investors in your smaller company. Get to know their executives at trade shows and medical conferences and make them a part of your network.
mHealth Startups, the Tech Companies are coming!