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Apple beefs up their mHealth portfolio

By Mark Killian / June 18, 2014


Apple beefs up their mHealth portfolio

Apple is often viewed as the king of innovation, unless we’re talking about the healthcare sector. Since the beginning of the wearables movement, Samsung, Google and countless startups have been eating Apple’s lunch. It wasn’t until this year’s WWDC that they finally decided to do something about it.

HealthKit is here, but is it enough?

Apple spent a tiny portion of their two-hour WWDC keynote introducing HealthKit, the development platform that will make it easier for third-party apps to cooperate with Apple devices. Although Apple didn’t introduce any new mHealth hardware, they did acknowledge the relevance of this movement by making it easier for other wearables manufacturers to align their product with Apple’s operating system.

But don’t expect to see anything worthwhile just yet. According to iOS consulting architect (and WWDC attendee) Conrad Stoll, “HealthKit’s potential is exciting, but it might be 1 to 2 years before we see something successfully built with it.” With the beta version of iOS 8 just now getting into the hands of developers—including an entirely new coding language they’ll need to learn—and the public debut still several months away, Stoll is probably right. We’ll likely see some first-to-market competitors entering the App store before Christmas, but as the initial iteration of the Samsung Galaxy Gear taught us, being the first to enter a new territory does NOT guarantee success.

In addition to HealthKit, Apple also introduced their own Health app; a one-stop storage space for all your biometric data. Rather than firing up three different apps to get an overview of your wellness profile, Apple’s Health app gathers all of that information from your fitness trackers and heart-rate monitors in one place for easy analysis and lifestyle adjustments. Ultimately, this app should allow people to create medication and health reminders, as well as include “emergency card” information that could be needed in an urgent medical situation.

Does the thought of all this personal information living on your phone give you anxiety? Don’t worry. If there’s one thing Apple does well, it’s data protection. And unlike Google or Facebook, the Apple ecosystem doesn’t revolve around the sale of your personal information to marketers. “Apple won’t be monetizing this information,” Stoll assures. “They take privacy very seriously. Permissions and privacy control on HealthKit are pretty extreme. User info is well encrypted and protected. If an app wants to access data, they have to ask the user for permission specifically for each of the 60-plus data categories available.”

Has your blood pressure leveled yet? Good, because Apple’s intentions with HealthKit seem to be totally beneficial for the user. As a matter of fact, they’re currently jumping through the gazillion hoops that are required to make sure their software and devices are HIPAA compliant. Once that certification has been granted, iPhone and iPad users will be able to share their personal information with physicians as easy as a text message. Soon, a medical question that would previously require a pricey and time consuming trip to the doctor will be handled over the Internet via smartphone or tablet. Now, if only they would introduce a revolutionary piece of hardware to pair with it.

Samsung remains strong

Although Apple temporarily grabbed the mHealth spotlight, they are still a good distance behind their courtroom nemesis, Samsung. Like Apple, Samsung is dedicated to creating a unified biometric database on their mobile devices, which they call S Health. Unlike Apple, Samsung is providing users with the tools to do it.

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Thanks to the tech world’s notoriously short attention span, many people have already forgotten that Samsung made great strides in personal healthcare just four months ago at the Mobile World Congress. That was when the we first met the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Gear Fit, but they seem to have been overshadowed by Apple rumors ever since. While people were buzzing about the potential release of an iWatch, Samsung actually debuted a wearable device with many of the same functions iWatch believers were hoping for.

The Gear Fit tracks your steps and monitors your heart rate, all while keeping you up to date with incoming texts, emails and social media notifications. Oh, and it also tells you the time, unlike many fitness bands on the market. The Gear Fit is also waterproof, ensuring that no matter how much you sweat or how hard it’s raining when you train, your data tracking will go undisrupted. But the Gear Fit isn’t the only waterproof heart monitor and pedometer Samsung introduced. The Galaxy S5 performs the same functions without the need of a fitness band.

Now, it would be poor journalism if we failed to mention that some of these features don’t work quite as well as Samsung’s advertisements lead you to believe. According to a Gizmodo review of the S5, the built-in S Health pedometer tends to be a little inconsistent. The reviewer notes that the step count on his phone doesn’t even match up with the one on his Gear Fit. Whether this is a first-version kink or a sign of bigger problems, this is certainly something Samsung will need to solve if they plan on putting Apple in their place.

An Android a day keeps the Apple at bay

Come June 25th—once all the applause from Apple’s WWDC has been reduced to a dull roar—Google will host it’s annual I/O event, and many people believe they’ll be announcing their own version of HealthKit. According to a Forbes exclusive, this platform will be called Google Fit, and it has the potential to steal Apple’s thunder.

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Not only will Google Fit offer the same developer-friendly access to fitness app SDKs, it will do so alongside their Glass and Android Wear programs. This begs the question—once again—did Apple wait too long to enter the wearables market? Assuming they can pull off biometric integration better than Samsung’s hardware division, this will give Google a huge leg up on the entire mHealth industry. We won’t truly know what Google has up their sleeve until I/O is all said and done, but if I were Apple, I’d start turning those iWatch rumors into a reality ASAP. After all, they are no longer the top dog.

Learn more about mobile devices in the healthcare industry by reading our mHealth Trend Report.