- Apple reportedly is assembling a team with skills in developing custom processors to interpret health-related data collected by sensors in wearables and other devices.
- The news suggests Apple may be planning to build specialized chips to work with its health sensors, CNBC reports. Doing so would give Apple end-to-end control over product development without having to use components supplied by outside companies, and help protect valuable trade secrets as it ups its ante in the healthcare space.
- Recent job postings by Apple’s Health Sensing hardware group said they are looking for analog and digital sensor ASIC architects and engineers and suggested an interest in people with experience in optical sensors.
There seems to be no end to Apple’s interest in healthcare. Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Fortune the company is “extremely interested” in healthcare” and teased, “There’s a lot of stuff I can’t tell you about that we’re working on.”
The company already makes sensors that measure heart rate, and it makes chips for Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads and AirPods. The job listings suggest it may be looking to develop chips specifically designed to read user-generated health information collected on its devices.
Moving beyond wearables to more specific patient monitoring devices could lead to an array of potential clinical uses. According to an Ernst & Young report published this spring, Apple has filed applications for 54 healthcare patents, including ways to turn iPhones into medical devices that capture biometric data such as body fat levels and blood pressure.
Apple already has several health monitoring sensors on its products. AliveCor’s KardiaBand app lets Apple Watch users capture a 30-second EKG to detect normal heart rhythms and atrial defibrillation. In a Cleveland Clinic study, the app accurately detected AF versus normal sinus rhythm with 93% sensitivity and 84% specificity. Sensitivity increased to 99% when doctors reviewed the app’s recordings.
Other research by Mayo Clinic showed the app can identify high potassium levels in the blood. The app has FDA clearance, giving Apple Watch a plug as a medical device.
Apple also owns sleep-tracking startup Beddit, which detects heartbeats and breathing rhythms and relays the information via Bluetooth to a companion app on iPhone or other compatible device.
And the company is also reportedly working on noninvasive blood sugar tracking sensors and is partnering with a number of health systems that provide medical records to the company’s updated Health Records section for the iPhone. The records section, still in beta mode, allows users to view their medical records with the Health app. CNBC previously reported that the tech giant also is planning on opening a group of primary care clinics for its employees — a possible outlet for its monitoring technologies.