Apple on medical tech hiring spree

2014-05-05 14:22
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Apple.

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San Francisco - Apple is building a team of senior medical technology executives, raising hackles in the biotechnology community and offering a hint of what the iPhone maker may be planning for its widely expected iWatch and other wearable technology.

Over the past year, Apple has snapped up at least half a dozen prominent experts in biomedicine, according to LinkedIn profile changes.

One prominent researcher moved two weeks ago, and Apple is recruiting other medical professionals and hardware experts, although the number of hires is not clear, said two people familiar with the hiring, who declined to be named.

Much of the hiring is in sensor technology, an area chief executive Tim Cook singled out last year as primed "to explode". Industry insiders say the moves telegraph a vision of monitoring everything from blood-sugar levels to nutrition, beyond the fitness-oriented devices now on the market.

"This is a very specific play in the bio-sensing space," said Malay Gandhi, chief strategy officer at Rock Health, a San Francisco venture capital firm that has backed prominent wearable tech start-ups, such as Augmedix and Spire. He was aware of several of the moves.

New product categories

Apple is under pressure to deliver on Cook's promise of new product categories this year. The company has not introduced a new type of product since the iPad in 2010, a fact that weighs on investors' minds: Its stock remains well off its highs despite a series of buybacks and dividend payouts.

Investor Carl Icahn tweeted his approval of Apple quarterly results and buyback plans on 23 April. "Believe we'll also be happy when we see new products," he added.

Apple has registered the trademark "iWatch" in Japan. Several Apple patents point to wrist-worn devices, and in February, Apple filed a patent for a smart ear bud patent that could track steps and detect gestures of the head.

Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling declined to comment on the company's health-tech plans or its recent hires.

The med-tech community is betting on Apple to develop the apps-store style platform so start-ups can develop their own software and hardware mobile medical applications.

"There's no doubt that Apple is sniffing around this area," said Ted Driscoll, a Silicon Valley-based partner at Claremont Creek Ventures, which specialises in digital health and medical devices. He said Apple seemed primarily focused on recruiting engineers with experience in "monitoring the body's perimeters".

"Some of the talent [Apple recruited] has access to deep wells of trade secrets and information," said Joe Kiani, chief executive officer of medical device firm Masimo, who lost his chief medical officer to Apple in mid-2013.

Kiani said that Apple was offering sizeable salaries with little indication of what researchers would be doing. "They are just buying people," he said. "I just hope Apple is not doing what we're doing."
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