Samsung previews health app, new trackers with S4 launch

By Jonah Comstock
07:04 am

S Band

Samsung launched its much-hyped Galaxy S4 Android phone last night at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, announcing a bevy of features and peripherals including an impressive suite of connected health and fitness trackers. The company is billing the device as a "life companion," and is advertising the health tracking features as part of that experience.

"The Galaxy S4's numerous sensors track the amount of exercise you get and can calculate your calorie consumption, so you can get healthier and make better decisions," product manager Ryan Biden said at the launch event. "It's one of the new features that truly makes the S4 a companion for life."

MobiHealthNews reported last month on rumors of a connected "pad" (similar to a weight scale) that could track heart rate and blood glucose, which would launch with the new phone. Now that the product has been announced, it turns out that peripheral was actually several peripherals: a connected body scale, an activity tracker bracelet, and a chest-worn heart monitor, none of which will come standard with the phone.

samsung body scaleHowever, the S4 will have an activity tracker built in, as well as ambient temperature and humidity sensors. The phone will also include a major update of the S Health app from the Galaxy SIII, which will give users access to data from the new Samsung peripherals as well as third party devices, all of which will communicate with the phone via Bluetooth. S Health will also have manual-entry tracking features for food, sleep, and blood glucose. Laptop magazine has a quick demo video of the S Health app in action.

The details are still hazy, but the new health peripherals seem to put Samsung into contention with dedicated tracker companies like Fitbit and Withings (although we don't know enough about the devices yet to know how stiff the competition will be).

The S Band bracelet is an activity tracker that can measure steps, calories burned, and, the company claims, monitor sleep efficiency. It comes in several colors and is waterproof. The HRM, a chest strap sensor, is a realtime heart rate monitor, according to the company, that connects to a special Running Mate app on the phone. The body scale supports up to seven users. There's no indication that it purports to track body fat -- a feature common to several connected weight scales, but which many believe requires a scale to have FDA 510(k) clearance.

According to CNET, all three accessories will debut with the phone in April. The S Band and Body Scale will sell for $99.99, while the HRM will go for $69.99.

Samsung HRMReleasing a phone in combination with connected fitness trackers, even with a chest strap heart monitor specifically, is not unprecedented. Way back in 2009, Nokia introduced the N79 Active phone package for "social exercisers," a bundle that included a heartrate monitor chest strap from Polar and a Sports Tracker application. Before that, Samsung itself partnered with Adidas in 2008 to build a phone into the Adidas miCoach system, along with a heart rate monitor and shoe-worn pedometer from Adidas.

Even though S Health was nearly the last feature to be announced at Samsung's hourlong launch show, it was still announced as a part of the core product, not a special version for athletes or fitness buffs. The biggest outcome for the field of mobile health here might be that Samsung is bringing fitness tracking even  further into the mainstream.


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