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The New Mobile App Frontier? Health and Fitness

Mobile developers wanting to cash in on the next big thing might want to start looking at user health apps like heart rate monitors and more sophisticated projects on tap.

The growing trend of health-related mobile apps was popularized with the recent unveiling of the Apple Watch and its sensor that can measure a user's heart rate.

"Apple Watch uses this sensor, along with an accelerometer and the GPS and Wi-Fi in your iPhone, to measure all kinds of physical movement, from simply standing up to actively working out," Apple said. "This allows Apple Watch to provide a comprehensive picture of your daily activity, suggest customized goals, and reward you for reaching personal fitness milestones."

That device was reportedly delayed and won't be available until early next year. However, following up on its May foreshadowing, Forbes yesterday reported that Microsoft is expected to launch a similar device in a few weeks, beating Apple Inc. to the health-care punch.

"The gadget is a smart watch that will passively track a wearer's heart rate and work across different mobile platforms," Forbes said. "It will also boast a battery life of more than two days of regular use, sources close to the project say." That battery life was contrasted with competing products such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Motorola Moto 360, which shows how the field is growing and maturing.

In fact, mobile analytics company App Annie, which tracks app popularity in various marketplaces and stores, reported in an August "Spotlight on Connected Devices" that the top fitness and health apps were seeing more growth than other industries.

The top five health and fitness apps were listed as: Fitbit, Up by Jawbone, Garmin Connect, Nike+ FuelBand and Misfit Shine.

"The top Health and Fitness apps in August 2014 all connect to health and activity trackers that consumers wear to improve their fitness, sleep and quality of life," App Annie said. "The five ranking apps collectively grew over 2.3x in monthly downloads since August 2013 -- a much greater increase than top apps in other subcategories."

As reported by Forbes, that growth is happening in a wearable tech industry that is still "uncharted territory" but, according to Statista, is expected to constitute a market worth $7.1 billion next year and $12.6 billion in 2018.

And as that market grows, more developers will be needed to build ever-more-sophisticated wearable apps for health and fitness.

"As health trackers evolve to measure more complex vitals like glucose and blood oxygen levels, respiratory rates and more, consumers will be able to better understand and take control of their health," App Annie said. Such futuristic apps include smart contact lenses that can measure glucose levels in tears -- helpful for diabetics -- and even cancer-detecting bras.

Forbes speculated that Microsoft may even branch out to provide cloud-based Software as a Service to track and encourage healthy behavior among employees, for example.

"Such 'wellness' services are already being shopped by a host of health-tracking startups like Pact Health, StickK, WellBe and Jiff, but larger tech firms have yet to jump into the market," Forbes said.

With Apple and Microsoft joining efforts by Google Inc. and other major players, that appears to be happening right now.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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