Nintendo, Apple, Google — is there room for everyone in digital health?

If the digital health space wasn’t already crowded enough, it’s getting more crowded by the day. Nintendo’s president said on Thursday that the company is planning a move into health. Its first health offering won’t be a wearable device, but Satoru Iwata left the details of Nintendo’s planned “quality of life” business to the imagination, […]

If the digital health space wasn’t already crowded enough, it’s getting more crowded by the day.

Nintendo’s president said on Thursday that the company is planning a move into health. Its first health offering won’t be a wearable device, but Satoru Iwata left the details of Nintendo’s planned “quality of life” business to the imagination, saying in a strategy announcement that he would surface more details later this year.

Meanwhile, Apple has been looming over the digital health space for the past several months, hinting through patents and new hires that it’s planning a major push into digital health with an iWatch. But 9to5Mac reported on Friday that, in the meantime, it’s planning a new version of the iPhone operating system that would put health front and center. The new iOS would includes an application for tracking a person’s steps, calories burned and miles, as well as the ability to monitor blood pressure, hydration levels and heart rate, 9to5Mac speculated.

These moves, along with Google’s announcement last month that it was developing a sophisticated contact lens to measure blood sugar, have brought what’s actually happening in digital health – not just talk about its potential – into mainstream conversation. Even within healthcare over the last few years there seems to have been some sense of “let’s wait and see” around digital health. Up until last year, for example, investment data suggested that venture capitalists were hesitant to commit to the sector.

Despite all of the new healthcare technology companies emerging, Silicon Valley hasn’t disrupted healthcare, David Shaywitz pointed out in a Forbes column from Sunday. Proving that all of the cool apps, telemedicine and IT products being developed can actually improve outcomes while reducing costs is very much a work in progress. And business models are still, and will continue to be, a challenge.

But investments pushed $2 billion in 2013, and exits are on the rise. And as more of these big companies acknowledge digital health as an area worthy of resources and attention, the more it seems likely that these products could eventually be validated.

“For smaller companies, it might give them some competition, but it does also give them some more opportunity for acquisition because of the interest of these companies,” said Daniel Ruppar, research director of connected health at Frost & Sullivan. “But it can give them also a lot of awareness in the market, if they’re actually able to do something that has a high level of differentiation.”

Shaywitz summed it up pretty eloquently: “Digital health’s robust potential may finally be too tactile for consumers, investors, and even medical product companies to responsibly ignore.”

[Image credit: BigStock Photos]