Novartis steps into wearables with app for Apple Watch, Android Wear

Apple Watch

Novartis ($NVS) has opened a new front in its push into digital health. The latest move sees the Big Pharma bring its navigation app for visually impaired people to Apple ($AAPL) and Google's ($GOOG) smartwatch platforms.

Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis introduced a version of the app for smartphones--called ViaOpta Nav--last year. And, with Apple having intensified global interest in wearables in the interim through the introduction of its Watch, Novartis has updated the app to make it work on smartwatches. The new version tweaks the turn-by-turn navigation for visually-impaired people of the original app to make it work on--and benefit from the unique features of--smartwatches.

"With the help of ViaOpta apps, people with impaired vision can do things such as walk to a nearby café, go to the pharmacy, and pick up their grandchildren at the kindergarten--helping to increase confidence and independence and maintaining discretion," European Forum Against Blindness Chair Ian Banks said in a statement. As well as standard navigation features, the app also has details of accessibility facilities such as tactile pavements and traffic lights with sound.

The success of the app will depend, in part, on how many visually impaired people buy a smartwatch. While visual impairment has many causes, some of the common triggers--such as age-related macular degeneration--disproportionately affect seniors, a demographic that is less likely to include early adopters of new technologies. Before Novartis can even aspire to convince people of the value of its app, it needs them to buy a device on which it can run.

At this stage, it is still unclear whether smartwatches and other wearables will become mainstream, cross-generational products. The same unpredictability is true of app development in general, a fact that has contributed to a high rate of churn in Novartis' software portfolio. As MobiHealthNews notes, Novartis now has 26 apps on the Apple store--around half of which were introduced in the past year--but also has a similar number of discontinued products. 

- read the release
- here's MobiHealthNews' take