Apple and Google are no strangers to competing in new and emerging tech spaces. The two are constantly vying for mobile users, and as such, are rushing to cater to the growing demand for a comprehensive fitness platform. With the success of basic fitness trackers like the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP came the desire from users for a better way of managing their data. The response from both Apple and Google came within the past month in the form of HealthKit and Google Fit.
HealthKit, unveiled at WWDC, is a new ecosystem that aggregates and organizes data from health and fitness-focused applications. This data is used to populate a dashboard interface that can be accessed from an app called Health. Health can access data about your sleep, calories burned, blood pressure, overall activeness, and various other metrics. From there, you can leverage that aggregated data to influence your future behaviors. Similarly, at Google I/O—about three weeks after Apple’s unveiling—Google announced their equivalent, Google Fit.
These platforms may or may not sound revolutionary at first. Truthfully, it isn’t that hard to aggregate your health data currently by setting up basic IFTTT channels or using the individual apps’ export features. The real power comes from Apple’s ability to analyze. For example, when I set up monitoring to track data from my Jawbone UP, I typically put it in a spreadsheet where it gathers dust.
With HealthKit, Apple can constantly apply advanced algorithms that not only track your data, but also interpret it along with information from countless other devices. Some fitness trackers on the market already do this, like Atlas Wearables, which collects data from multiple users and takes what they know about each individual to create trends and predictions. But this is inherently limited because the Atlas can only know so much about you and your lifestyle. Imagine what would happen if your Atlas also knew what your food journal knew, and so on. Clearly there is great potential for this level of collaboration.
On paper, HealthKit and Fit are extremely similar, and in the early stages, it is difficult to know for sure how Google and Apple will leverage them. One potential difference is hardware. Google beat Apple to market quite handily in the race to release a consumer smartwatch platform. The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live are already up for sale, while there are only mere rumors pointing to a possible iWatch release later this year.
Hardware integration will be key for both platforms, as hardware and sensors are the means by which all apps on the ecosystem harvest data. By offering developers extra hardware to pair with their software, Google is making more streams to feed into the reservoir of data they are trying to build. Hardware integration is something Apple usually gets right, but their failure to reveal a smart watch in concert with HealthKit could prove costly down the line.
The underlying principle behind both platforms is openness. Google and Apple have to convince developers and third-party clients that it is in their best interest to pass over their data. This is where the traditional strengths of both companies come into play. While Apple is amazing at developing fully integrated, whole-cloth solutions, they are miles behind Google when it comes to effectively leveraging open source software and providing value to their developers while creating even more for themselves.
On the other hand, that affinity for openness often gets in Google’s way when it comes to pushing out new features. For one, fragmentation on the Android ecosystem remains high. Even if Fit is rolled into the next shippable version of Android, it will take many upgrade cycles before most Android users ever get a sniff of it.
Furthermore, Google will be competing with some of its own OEMs with similar goals. For instance, Samsung unveiled their health-tracking platform, Sami, in May. As we have seen time and again, Samsung will just replace stock Android devices with their own Sami to go along with Touchwiz. HealthKit and the Health app, on the other hand, will be a consistent experience across all Apple devices, including the imminent iWatch.
Another key difference between the platforms is the intention behind them. It is no secret that Google monetizes nearly all user data it collects across all of its different products. Apple, on the other hand, appears to be looking to build its own ecosystem even stronger from the ground up. At this point in time, people are relatively ok with ads served based on scans of their email inbox or search history, but self-centric data like personal health is a boundary that has not been fully explored just yet.
Google will have to be careful not to let its new up and coming wearables push fall to the same fate as its first one, Google Glass. Sundar Pichai made a point to mention that all data belonged to users and data could be kept private or deleted, but don’t suspect that means Google has had a change of heart. If we are being shown these new products, it is because Google believes they will be able to make money off the data they generate.
While all the things we’ve talked about so far are incredible, it is important to view everything from the company’s perspective. What we have been shown in the past month is not the full extent of what Apple and Google have planned for health-related tech. There was an especially telling blurb during Google I/O when Pichai mentioned an Android app that could perform eye exams with near the same level of accuracy as extremely expensive optometric equipment as well as one that aided users struggling with mental health issues.
It has been well documented that the medical industry could do wonders for individuals if it simply had the data to more accurately diagnose ailments. Google and Apple will bring in more data than any current healthcare initiative and even biotech startups. But instead of turning it into a collective pool that doctors can leverage, they also are well aware that it is possible to receive actual care from the smartphone itself.
To be fair, we are a long way away from a day when we can provide any significant percentage of medical care remotely—and it is far from Google or Apples’ intentions to take medical professionals out of the picture—but as more rapid advances are made in the healthcare tech fields, Google and Apple hope to make themselves indispensable partners to industry leaders.
The more data Google and Apple have, the more value they can provide to medical providers and caretakers. And in turn, they are inherently intertwined into future innovations. Google hired Ray Kurzweil in 2012, and while that is likely directly tied to AI and robotics initiatives, Kurzweil has also written about specific innovations in biotech that would greatly prolong human life—and are surely on Google’s radar screen.
It can feel like listening to a broken record sometimes reading recaps of the various conferences, but as always… it’s all about the data. More data simply means more money for the builders of the platforms we use. There are lots of new things that HealthKit and Fit make possible for third-party developers as well, and tons of room for innovation. It’s early, but our guess is that by this time next year, you’ll be measuring a lot more than your steps and sleep.