Vjeran Pavic

General


Apple has made its much-anticipated foray into health and fitness information-gathering with HealthKit, a mobile software application that pulls in data from third-party apps and consolidates them in one comprehensive health-related profile.

There are existing apps for “everything from monitoring your activity level, to your weight, to chronic medical conditions like blood pressure and diabetes,” Apple’s Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, said at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. “But right now that information lives in silos.”

With HealthKit in iOS 8, there will now be a single profile of activity and health. Not surprisingly, Apple named Nike as an early partner in this. It also named the reputable Mayo Clinic as a partner.

For example, Federighi said, when a patient takes a blood pressure reading and records it with the iPhone, HealthKit will automatically notify the Mayo Clinic app, which will know whether the patient’s reading is within normal parameters. If it’s not, the app would alert health-care professionals.

In this way, HealthKit is both a “push” and “pull” data solution: It will pull data from third-party health and fitness apps, but also push it without the user having to manually do so, provided that the user opts in.

Perhaps a more interesting feature than just the consolidation of health and fitness data is the correlation of it. Existing digital health products can be very good at recording data, but not necessarily interpreting it or using it for health predictions. Others have tried to create a one-stop app for this sort of thing — for example, Samsung has an app called S Health that runs on its flagship Galaxy phones and is supposed to be a comprehensive health-tracking solution — but the experience around that has been limited, too.

Speculation has been brewing for months that Apple would somehow make a greater play in the nascent category of the quantified self, in which mobile or wearable sensors are used to track sleep patterns, calories burned or steps taken. It is an area where other established players, including Nike, have struggled to gain traction with activity-tracking wristbands.

In March, Apple-focused blog 9to5Mac reported that Apple was working on this type of software solution, identified at the time as “Healthbook.”

Apple’s HealthKit may be one answer to an app-fragmentation problem. But the question also remains as to whether Apple will eventually take a hardware plunge into the wearable health and fitness market (iWatch, anyone?).

In a way, it already has: Apple’s M7 co-processor, which exists in the iPhone 5s and newer iPads, allows for the passive gathering of motion and activity data. Health and fitness apps, such as Fitbit, Moves, RunKeeper and Strava, are already utilizing the new chip, allowing them to get a more accurate reading on activities.

But beyond that, the company’s references onstage to chronic medical conditions could indicate that more is expected in the market of iPhone-friendly, wireless medical devices like glucose readers and blood pressure monitors.

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