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Up next for Apple: health tracking?

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is unlikely to introduce new devices this week, the things that most excite customers and investors these days. But it is expected to dive deeper into two new areas: connected health and the so-called smart home.

Along with operating system updates for its machines, Apple plans to introduce at its annual developers' conference on Monday a new health-tracking app, said a person briefed on the product, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The app for mobile devices will track statistics for health or fitness, like a user's footsteps, heart rate, and sleep activity.

Initially, the app will pull data from third-party fitness and health-monitoring hardware, the person said, but it will most likely be able to connect with a smart watch Apple is expected to release this year.


Apple is also expected to make an announcement about its efforts with connecting to so-called smart home devices, or home appliances that can be wirelessly controlled with a smartphone, like light bulbs, thermostats, or door locks.

Many smart appliances already exist, but Apple could introduce tool kits for developers that would allow apps to more easily communicate with appliances, which could make the connected home systems simpler for consumers to set up.

Health monitors and smart home devices are still niche categories. While some devices are mildly popular, like Fitbit's pedometers and Nest's smart thermostat, they do not sell nearly as well as smartphones and tablets. But with a big brand like Apple pushing these categories, consumers could start to pay more attention.

"Apple always has the potential to turn a niche into a mainstream proposition when it enters a market," said Jan Dawson, a Jackdaw Research analyst.

Apple will not be the first big company to bet on smarter health and home applications. Google in 2011 unveiled Android@Home, an effort to expand Android into appliances. It made little progress. Google's acquisition of Nest, the smart-appliance maker, for $3.2 billion might revitalize that effort.


Samsung has also highlighted its efforts in the health space. In San Francisco last week, Samsung said it would provide developers, hardware makers, and medical professionals with a platform that would push forward the idea of "intelligent digital health."

Julian Walker, a founder of the app startup FiftyThree, is skeptical about smart-home device makers jumping on board with Apple. He said Apple is a tough partner for companies to work with because it imposes strict requirements on them.

For example, Apple began losing its grip on companies that made iPod speakers and docks when it switched the connector on its iPhone to a new port, the Lightning connector.

Instead of making new hardware compatible with Lightning, many companies decided to develop accessories using a wireless connection, Bluetooth, that could be used by all kinds of hardware.

Paul Haddad, maker of the Twitter app Tweetbot, said he thought Apple's expansion into health would drive more interest in health-monitoring applications and devices. "An Apple-provided health application will bring a lot more attention to the benefits that tracking your health data on a smartphone can provide," he said.

But he was uninterested in the connected home because he did not think the category would attract many customers. "None of the existing smart home devices seem to have enough of a market," he said. For example, Nest has sold about 440,000 Protect smoke detectors — nowhere close to the millions of apps developers hope to sell, he said.