Apple, WWDC and Health
Next month I’ll be in London for one of the Monty Python reunion shows. In their 1983 movie, The Meaning of Life, Michael Palin played an condescending hospital manager who wanted to make sure everyone appreciated the machine that he had bought, the one “that goes ping”. The joke was based on the notion that hospitals-know-best and that technology was one way that healthcare can assert its power over patients.
31 years later and the iPhone in my pocket outstips any machine the hospital has that goes ping. For instance, the computers in my hospital run Windows XP Professional, an operating system from 2002. Meanwhile yesterday, Apple announced Health, an app that will come as standard in iOS 8, the next revision of Apple’s mobile iPhone/iPad operating system. It’s not the do-everything, life-saving app that some people will have been expecting, but it’s a subtle statement of intent and when taken into consideration with Apple’s announcement HomeKit and SDK extensibility yesterday, there’s a smart long game ahead.
Let’s break down what all that means:
This is an iPhone/iPod app which will correlate any health related data that your phone has been collecting, and present it in an attractive dashboard of information.
Perhaps you have been collating some of this information already, most likely through health and fitness apps. For instance, since 2010, I’ve been tracking all my runs and cycles through RunKeeper.
The thing with using an app like RunKeeper is that you have to get it going and tell you that you’re going on a run / cycle / whatever. You have to actively start up the process of recording the activity.
Then last year, Apple put the M7 chip into the iPhone 5s, which is an always-on activity monitor, which turns your iPhone into the fanciest pedometer imaginable. It turns activity logging from an active activity into a passive, casual one. To reflect this, RunKeeper launched Breeze a few weeks ago. I’ve never had to tell it anything about what I’m doing, yet it efficiently is keeping on top of my daily activity levels. It’s pretty neat.
Unseen behind of all this is HealthKit, where the software developers can use the health data inside your phone (with your permission) to power other apps. For instance nutrition and fitness apps could use each other’s data to improve how they work.
HomeKit is another part of Apple’s Software Development Kit (SDK) open to app developers, which aims to unify all the information and functions coming into your phone from a connected device. Currently consumers can have smoke detectors, CO detectors, lighting, security, heating and more connected to their WiFi network where it’s all controllable and monitorable remotely. It’s all early-adopters buying into these products at the moment, but they will hit a tipping point soon and there is going to be overlap between home information and health information.
Imagine an asthmatic using a peak-flow meter which recorded readings taken every morning and sent them to your iPhone alongside inhaler use from a smart, connected inhaler. Any changes in usage or numbers could be correlated with weather and humidity information to control the person’s home heating and air conditioning. All of this is doable today.
Finally, on Monday’s WWDC, Apple talked about extensibility. This is the evolution of apps to allow them to interact with each other and within each other.
It’s similar to “plug-ins” that we see on desktops, and it means that an app that covers a broad base of functionality, could have a tailor-made functionality added by a second app. For example RunKeeper could offer extensibilty to a social network app that’s exclusive to fitness and activity for diabetics.
What’s important here is the move from active capturing of health data, to passive capture alongside giving the data some context to improve its utility. How subtle and unnoticeable can that process become in the next few years? Where is wearable technology going to fit in? Will it go “ping”?