I found this Intel press release on the use of smartphones for personal monitoring interesting as it tallies with some work we've been doing recently on application stores. The concept is that handsets can do far more than simply tell you where you are and what's around you, they can also take measurements from your body and determine your health, mood and general wellbeing.
This is nothing new, of course. I understand that Apple has a number of patents that relate to extended sensing of device users. What the article misses (and perhaps Intel have too) is that handsets are already well capable of making these measurements today. A few weeks ago the istethoscope application was the top selling app on iTunes - demonstrating the growing understanding of how to exploit smartphones for health and wellbeing. Heartbeat monitoring is a basic diagnosis tool, but has many uses in personal monitoring - level of exertion being the most obvious example.
Smartphones have taken off big time in the last two years and their penetration is extending further into the customer base as 'semi-smart' devices come into the mid-range, typically running Android. Smartphones entering the mainstream is important as I suspect that many people interested in personal monitoring are older and not necessarily early technology adopters. Tackling the effects of an aging population and the obesity epidemic seem to be key foci for the EU in the coming decades and personal monitoring may offer a way of providing early warning of issues and rudimentary triage that will reduce the cost of providing primary healthcare.
It's also clear that we're only starting to exploit the capabilities of smartphones. Their integrated accelerometers, cameras, microphones, GPS and even pedometers, combined with high speed processing and open development environments make them excellent mobile sensor platforms. Add temperature sensors, or ultra-low power remote sensors to them and the capability - and potential marketability - of devices will expand still further. All it'll take is a bit of vision - something I'm working on with a current client.