The Samsung BioActive chip allowed their smartwatches to have more sensors and longer battery life than the market-leading Apple Watch. However, Apple has been a pioneer in bringing advanced medical technology to the wrist, with breakthroughs such as the first FDA-approved ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor on a watch in 2018.
sat down with Daejong Jay Yang, head of health research and development at Samsung, to discuss how Samsung has come so far and so quickly in smartwatches and health tracking. The latter points out that Samsung has put a lot of effort into improving sleep tracking over the years. The company then took a big step towards health with a new 3-in-1 sensor introduced with the Galaxy Watch 4, the first device to switch from Samsung’s Tizen software to Google’s Wear OS.
Google and Samsung have struggled to keep up with the Apple Watch in recent years, but that may be starting to change.
Apple dominates, Samsung advances
According to Counterpoint Research, the Apple Watch still dominates the smartwatch market with 36% market share, while Samsung holds a respectable second, a distant second place with 10%. But in the first quarter of 2022, Samsung increased its market share by more than 20% compared to the previous year, while Apple’s share remained stagnant.
One reason for Samsung’s progress could be that its latest wearable technology, the Galaxy Watch 4, measures more aspects of health and has features not yet found on the Apple Watch.
Meanwhile, the two companies plan to release their next-gen devices within the next two months – the Galaxy Watch 5 is expected to be announced at Samsung Unpacked, and the Apple Watch Series 8 at Apple’s annual presentation in September.
Sleep, Samsung’s first big step
If we go back to 2014 and the first connected Galaxy Gear, Samsung was already working on sleep tracking. In 2018, the Galaxy Watch tracked sleep cycles and REM sleep, two years before the Apple Watch’s sleep tracking feature was officially released and four years before the introduction of sleep cycles in WatchOS 9, which will be official this fall.
In 2020, Samsung’s connected watch has already introduced sleep scores and automatic information about its user’s sleep habits. The following year, it offered monitoring of blood oxygen levels during sleep, more advanced sleep metrics, and snoring detection.
But she made her biggest leap in 2022. Samsung’s latest watch now includes a free AI-powered sleep workout that provides tips and checklists to help improve your sleep quality. This feature offers a lot of content. In particular, it introduces eight animals to characterize your dream and make the interpretation of this data more playful.
“We have made a lot of progress in sleep technology,” says Taejong Jay Yang.
BioActive Chip: Samsung Breakthrough
But where Samsung has made the most progress is with the release of the 3-in-1 BioActive sensor last August in the Galaxy Watch 4. By combining optical heart rate, electrical heart rate, and bioelectrical impedance analysis in a single chip, the BioActive sensor not only detects irregular heartbeat and measures blood oxygen levels, but can also measure blood pressure and body composition. These last two features have been integrated into the Samsung device since before the introduction of the Apple Watch.
“One of the sensors in BioActive is called BIA and measures body composition. It measures muscle mass and body fat,” says Daejeon Jay Yang. “This technology didn’t exist a few years ago. You had to go to the gym and hold some kind of hand grip for 30 seconds to a minute to measure your body composition. Now it sits on your wrist and you can measure it whenever you want. »
BioActive also lets people check heart rate variability all the time, something Apple Watch doesn’t yet have. While BioActive pioneered these new features, how they were implemented was also key.
“We developed this BioActive chip that combines multiple sensors into one, making it more efficient and effective,” says Taejong Jay Yang. “And you have a longer battery because it’s energy efficient. »
The Apple Watch Series 7 can easily last 24 hours on a full charge, while the Galaxy Watch 4 can last about 50% longer, or a day and a half.
The following sensors
Samsung’s teaming up with Google in wearables and now using the Wear OS platform for software seems to have paved the way for Samsung’s healthcare and wearables team to focus their energy and resources on hardware and sensor development rather than only for smartwatches.
“We are considering other form factors (for sensors). Headphones are one of them. We are also looking into other types of devices,” says Taejong Jay Yang. “When these other devices are paired and connected, we can use the most suitable device and use this capability across devices. »
It remains to be seen if all of these devices are wearable or not. But it’s clear that Samsung believes it’s finally made headway with smartwatches, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. Of course, there is always the issue of monitoring blood sugar levels, which not only affects the 400 million people with diabetes worldwide, but can also help many more to better understand and regulate their diet.
“We are investing heavily in the development of other biometric elements. We will prioritize them based on the needs and influence of consumers,” adds the manager.
There will be smart watches
The Galaxy Watch 5 and Apple Watch Series 8 are rumored to include a Pro model in their lineup. These models may be more durable or made from better materials. But it is also possible that these are the first models with the most advanced features and sensors.
Whatever happens to the Pro models, these two new devices are likely to continue the trend of incorporating health tracking, which previously cost a fortune and required linking medical equipment and personnel, into devices costing several hundred euros that have the ability to keep track of their health at all times. state.
Also keep in mind that Apple Watch doesn’t work with Android phones and Galaxy Watch doesn’t work with iPhone. Thus, this race for sensors between the two manufacturers will not incentivize users to switch from one ecosystem to another. But this race for the best features and the most advanced sensors keeps both companies moving forward, which also benefits users.