Samsung Is Testing an AI Health Coach as the Race Against Apple, Google Heats Up     – CNET

Samsung Is Testing an AI Health Coach as the Race Against Apple, Google Heats Up – CNET

Samsung is exploring new digital health coaching features based on large language models, or LLMs, as part of its efforts to embed AI into its most important products. The move can also be seen as an effort to fend off rivals including Google and Apple as they evolve their own health trackers and digital assistants. 

The initiative involves using an LLM to help interpret and provide insights about a person’s health data, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t public. Though a Samsung executive spoke publicly earlier this year about general interest in a digital wellness coach and using LLMs to make sense of health data, the company hasn’t yet revealed details about new products or features based on the technology. 

Samsung declined to comment. The status of the initiative and how or if it will appear in a publicly released product is unclear. 

Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker by shipments globally, has been adding AI features to its Galaxy smartphones, laptops and smartwatches as part of a push into what its executive say is the next era of mobile computing. Samsung’s project, along with similar efforts by Google and Apple, suggest health tracking is the next frontier ripe for an AI-fueled upgrade. The industry-wide focus on AI also coincides with Samsung’s expansion into the consumer health space earlier this year with the introduction of its Galaxy Ring health tracker, which can passively measure health metrics from your finger.  

Galaxy Ring on finger pointing at phone

The Galaxy Ring is a companion to the Samsung Health app.

Samsung

When asked during a CNET interview in January whether Samsung was considering developing a chatbot or virtual assistant specifically for navigating health data, Hon Pak, vice president and head of the digital health team for the mobile experience business at Samsung Electronics, didn’t rule out the possibility. 

He said “the concept” of a digital assistant for navigating and understanding health context is “going to be necessary” but declined to comment on specific plans. 

“What form factor that’s going to be is to be determined,” said Pak after Samsung’s January Unpacked event. “And it may vary based on person to person, right? Some people just probably want audio; some people want a video on the TV.”

Pak also told CNBC in February that there’s “a digital assistant coach” in Samsung’s future.

Samsung is expected to provide more details about its vision for health and wearables during its next Unpacked event, which according to reports from blog Sam Mobile and Korean newspaper The Chosun Daily is set for July 10. Samsung typically launches new smartwatches and foldable phones during its summer Unpacked event. If it continues that tradition this year, consumers can expect to see the Galaxy Ring‘s official debut, alongside new versions of the Galaxy Watch. 

Read more: AI Needs to Earn Our Trust Before It Can Deliver on Its Promises

samsung is testing an ai health coach as the race against apple google heats up

Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Ring: Our First Glimpse of Samsung’s Health-Tracking Wearable

Samsung’s health coach project 

The goal behind Samsung’s health assistant project is to provide deeper insights into a person’s health data by using an LLM to draw insights, according to the people familiar with Samsung’s work. An example might include making observations about a person’s sleep patterns, such as whether they sleep better after exercising. 

Hints of what Samsung might be working on appeared on a website by Hazel Zhang, who, according to her LinkedIn page, formerly worked as a Samsung interaction designer. Her website includes a proposal for a conversational health and wellness coach called Thrive, which appears to be different from the Thrive app Samsung introduced in 2018 as part of a collaboration with publisher and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington. 

That older app was designed to help people disconnect from their phones. The project described on Zhang’s website involves answering questions about a person’s health data. 

After being contacted by CNET, Zhang password-protected the portion of her website with details of the project. The website was publicly accessible at the time of writing. 

The material on Zhang’s website, which CNET archived, appears to be a proposal from several months ago and may not reflect Samsung’s plans should the project continue. Zhang declined to comment for this story. 

Images on the website show an AI assistant answering questions such as, “How was my sleep yesterday?” and proactively asking the user if they’re feeling all right after sleeping poorly. Others show the AI assistant highlighting potential factors that could be disrupting sleep, based on a person’s habits, such as social media usage before bed. 

Still other examples of health insights mentioned on Zhang’s website include noting that stress levels may be higher when scrolling through social media before bed, or observing more restful sleeping patterns when the room is cooler. 

As part of the project, Samsung has also explored use cases specifically targeting the elderly, according to Zhang’s website and one of the people familiar with the company’s work. 

Samsung worked on the LLM-based health project in 2023 and early 2024, according to two of the people and Zhang’s website. The project appears to be in early stages and likely wouldn’t be released this year if it were to progress, the people said. 

But Samsung could use an LLM to power another previously announced health tool launching later this year, called Energy Score, CNET has learned. Energy Score analyzes metrics such as average sleep time, sleep time consistency, previous day activity and heart rate variability among other measurements to determine your current state. Samsung’s press release about the feature mentions combining on-device AI with the Samsung Health app but doesn’t specifically mention the use of an LLM. 

“Samsung is on the path to building some of the most personalized and secure health experiences yet,” the press release reads.

These details align with the approach Pak hinted at in his conversations with CNET and CNBC earlier this year. In the January interview with CNET, Pak discussed Samsung’s interest in finding ways to assist caregivers. He also said Samsung was exploring various options, some of which may involve partnerships, for a different “human computer interface” when asked about the possibility of a health chatbot. 

“It may be a whole different visual design change versus a digital assistant that’s a chatbot versus an avatar,” he said. 

In the conversation with CNBC, Pak discussed how a large language model could be useful in crunching different types of data, like medical records and mobile device usage, to “bring greater insights.”

Read more: Smartwatches Can Learn a Lot From Fitbit’s New Kid-Focused Watch

AI is playing a bigger role in health trackers

Samsung’s approach sounds similar to Google’s Fitbit Labs program, announced last year. Fitbit users will be able to ask questions, such as why they felt more tired than usual after a run, prompting Fitbit to compare that run with previous ones to look for changes. In March, Google announced it’s developing an LLM designed for personal health that’ll be based on its Gemini AI model and analyze Fitbit data. 

In June, Google published two new research papers detailing its work on LLMs and health data. 

A rendering of a phone with the Fitbit app on screen

An example showing the type of information Fitbit Labs will be able to provide. 

Google

Apple may also be working on an AI-powered health coach, according to Bloomberg. The coaching service would try to improve habits around sleep, exercise and nutrition by using AI to evaluate Apple Watch health data and then create personalized wellness programs, the report says. Last year, Apple also upgraded its voice assistant Siri with the ability to answer questions about an Apple Watch user’s health data.  

Though Apple didn’t unveil an AI health assistant during its developers’ conference on June 10, it did announce several upgrades to Siri and new Apple Watch health metrics. Siri will soon incorporate personal context from a user’s iPhone into responses, and the Apple Watch will be able to show when certain health data points measured during sleep stray from their norm. 

Both changes indicate that AI agents and health monitoring are a big part of Apple’s future product roadmap. 

Samsung’s exploration around health is just an example of how gen AI is becoming a bigger part of consumer tech devices. Ever since OpenAI’s ChatGPT catapulted into the public eye in November 2022, tech giants have been scrambling to incorporate AI into phones, laptops, search engines, productivity apps and more. 

AI is also expected to play a larger role in the health care industry over the next several years, with market research firm Gartner predicting that generative AI will help clinicians reduce time spent on clinical documentation tasks by 50% by 2027. 

The International Data Corporation’s US Healthcare Provider IT Survey also found that 39.4% of provider respondents found generative AI to be one of the top three technologies that will impact health care in the next five years. That same report, based on a survey from March, indicates that 30.6% of health care provider respondents plan to increase overall spending on traditional non-generative artificial intelligence and machine learning.

For consumers, gen AI could help fitness trackers and their accompanying apps provide more precise insights rather than just spitting out statistics, said Ramon T. Llamas, a research director who studies wearables and other mobile devices for IDC.  

“Do you want to spend the rest of your time just collecting descriptive data, [like] your history of steps, and heart rate and sleep, or do you want to move on to the next stage?” Llamas said when asked whether wearable-tech companies will embrace gen AI for health tracking applications. He added that Samsung’s experience incorporating AI into its newest smartphones means it’s probably equipped to do so with wearable devices and health apps.

Read more: We Asked Google’s Co-founder About AI Smart Glasses. Here’s What He Said

Samsung is ramping up its health and AI efforts

Samsung Galaxy Watch 6

Health and fitness tracking has become a core focus area for Samsung’s Galaxy Watch in recent years. 

Screenshot by CNET

Samsung has been increasingly vocal about AI and health tracking initiatives. In January, the company surprised audiences at its Unpacked event by debuting the Galaxy Ring, a wellness tracker worn on the finger that competes directly with the popular $299 Oura Ring

In a May press release, Junho Park, vice president and head of the Galaxy Ecosystem Product Planning Team for Samsung’s mobile experience business, called new Galaxy Watch features like Energy Score “just the beginning.” 

Samsung has already worked with health-oriented LLMs, though those efforts aren’t intended for use in consumer products and instead are aimed at the health care industry. Harman, a subsidiary of Samsung, announced a large language model called HealthGPT last October that it’s positioning as a tool for “healthcare professionals, researchers and institutions.”

In its Interim Business Report for the quarter that ended in March, the company also pointed to its Samsung Health platform as an area of growth. 

“Samsung Health will strengthen its position as a comprehensive health management platform through new form factors and AI features,” the document says. 

When it comes to its overall gen AI strategy, Samsung started off 2024 by unveiling Galaxy AI, a suite of AI-powered features for its Galaxy phones that can handle tasks like editing photos, translating calls in real time and rewriting text messages. The company plans to “further optimize” its Galaxy AI features for upcoming foldable devices this year, Won-Joon Choi, head of the research and development office for Samsung’s Mobile Experience business, said in a June blog post

“AI is kind of permeating through different facets of people’s lives,” said Llamas, the mobile industry analyst. “And it’s not going to stop.”

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Lisa Eadicicco

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