I didn’t get a chance to write about Google’s (big) announcement that it was expanding its Android operating system franchise to wearable products. If you haven’t been following the news: the company unveiled a developer preview of Android Wear, software that will allow developers to outfit wearable devices that can interact with Android devices like mobile phones and tablet.
The announcement is important: it shows Google continuing to grow its footprint in the wearables space beyond the (controversial) Glass technology. In fact, noted tech luminary Robert Scoble and others have wondered aloud whether Google is ready to let Glass go the way of Wave, Buzz and other skunkworks projects.
The announcement of Wear and attendant deals with watch makers like Fossil and others suggests that, if nothing else, Google is ready to get out of the wearable hardware business and leave that to companies that are better suited to innovate on platforms like watches, exercise bracelets and the like.
The question now is: what kinds of applications and use cases will Wear satisfy? It’s early days, so there’s not much to go on beyond what Google has said publicly and what information and guidance it is making available to developers. If you don’t feel like sitting through all the developer preview videos, there’s a good overview at Android Police of what Google is promoting: mainly a way for phones and tablets to send realtime updates to wearables like phones, as well as context-specific pop-ups that will appear during certain activities (like running/biking, etc.)
However, one big category of application that appears to be off the list right now are medical applications. Deep down in Google’s Developer Preview License Agreement is the following language, which seems to prohibit Android Wear applications that involve personal health information:
“Unless otherwise specified in writing by Google, Google does not intend use of Android Wear to create obligations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as amended, (“HIPAA”), and makes no representations that Android Wear satisfies HIPAA requirements. If you are (or become) a Covered Entity or Business Associate under HIPAA, you agree not to use Android Wear for any purpose or in any manner involving Protected Health Information unless you have received prior written consent to such use from Google.”
Google’s prohibition of medical applications is interesting. The market for personal health devices is evolving quickly, and the U.S. government has already warned that – in some cases – mobile applications may count as a type of medical device regulated by the FDA.
In September of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration released guidance to mobile application developers who are creating medical applications to run on devices like the iPhone and Android mobile devices. Some applications, it said, will be treated with the same scrutiny as traditional medical devices.
Google didn’t provide a rationale for the prohibition and didn’t respond to an email request for comment. But