Apple will put on its big show at its world wide developers conference on Monday, and you can expect it to take the opportunity to introduce its long-rumored health and fitness app and platform, “Healthbook.”
The announcement will be both more and less than the rumored “iWatch” wearable product announcement many Apple fans have been expecting. Less, because we don’t expect Apple to introduce any hardware on Monday. More, because Healthbook will likely be far more than just a device or an app — it will be a whole system for integrating health and fitness data across Apple’s product lines, complete with long-term trending and charting of your health and fitness progress.
“Over the next year it’s likely that they’ll be introducing a biosensing wearable as well as the Healthbook platform,” says Halle Tecco, the CEO and co-founder of the digital health startup accelerator Rock Health. “For next week, it’s probably just the platform. We are excited about both / either products, because having a company like Apple in healthcare can really help move the industry forward.”
For about six months now, market watchers have been wondering when Apple will officially dip its toe into the health and fitness monitoring market. Many have speculated that a new iWatch wearable (if it ever comes) would be packed with ways to track your steps, workouts, stress levels, and a host of other body metrics.
Other rumors have suggested an app, rather than a device, will be Apple’s focus.
The rumored app, often called “Healthbook,” might keep tabs on vitals such as weight, heart rate, sleep, and nutrition. It may also track more clinical things like blood work, blood pressure, hydration, blood sugar, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation.
Several experts I talked with believe Apple will introduce some kind of health platform — fronted by a nifty app in iOS — this Monday. That platform could be followed by a health sensing device, like an iWatch, later on.
“I do suspect that they will announce Healthbook as a part of iOS 8, but I don’t believe they will release any kind of hardware device,” says Gartner lead Apple analyst Van Baker.
I believe this is true, for two reasons.
Samsung’s competitive position
First, Samsung has played its health card this week, and, like last year’s introduction of Samsung’s first Galaxy Gear smartwatch, it seemed a little rushed.
Samsung held its “Voice of the Body” event in San Francisco this week, in which it announced the outlines of a new cloud-based, API-based health platform (called “SAMI”) into which a variety of consumer health monitoring devices could report. Samsung also announced a new device, sort of: It trotted out the reference design for a new health wearable called Simband, which contains a bunch of cool sensors in the band and displays body metrics in real time on the front.
But the whole thing seemed a little half-baked to me. Simband is not actually a product you can buy. Samsung had no new hardware to show, no mobile health services — just plans for the future. Could it be that Samsung hurried to hold its big health show this week as a way preempting a health-related announcement (or announcements) next week at WWDC? This kind of public relations gaming has certainly happened before, and I think it might be happening now.
“Apple’s proposed HealthBook and iWatch, and Samsung’s ‘SAMI’ and ‘Simband’ are great starts at aggregating data from proprietary and 3rd party devices and apps into an easier to absorb presentation layer,” says Jim Bloedau of the Information Advantage Group, a San Francisco consultancy that helps startup enter the health market.
“This is just the beginning. When we combine this with the ‘lab on a chip’ technology that proteomics is starting to promise, and the cloud, we will have an ecosystem that will allow us to detect sooner the sentinel signs of bad health and avoid cataclysmic health events like heart attacks and cancer,” Bloedau says.
Samsung may have rushed its announcement because it had intelligence about Apple’s WWDC plans.
But now that Samsung’s half-baked announcement is out, Apple has even less reason to rush.
Apple’s preferred strategy
The second reason involves timing. Apple likes to jump into markets that already have some maturity and experience. The personal health wearable thing has been going on for more than a year now. Despite a recall last quarter, FitBit is selling a ton of its fitness devices. Samsung is rapidly gaining experience building and integrating the devices, and its products are getting better.
Talk about the iWatch or some other health wearable has been going on for at least a year. I’m convinced that Apple has indeed been working on something for many months.
Gartner’s Baker has another take on the timing issue.
“I think the reason you’ll see Apple announce this now is that they want developers to create apps that feed into the Healthbook repository,” Baker says. “Apple put out Healthbook now and see what the analysts bring to the table.”
The real question is about how expansive Apple’s digital health plans will be. Sure, the consumer-facing stuff is going to be beautiful an highly functional, but will my health provider be able to access my health data on the back end?
And if so, how will Apple handle the wide variety of regulatory requirements that come into play when working with health providers? HIPAA rules — which ensure patient privacy — will demand a high degree of security and many protocols around who gets to access what data. The potential payoff for Apple could be huge, but that also may be more complexity than a consumer tech company wants to get into.
So the scope of an Apple digital health announcement could be very narrow or very wide. At the very least I expect to see Healthbook announced as a new part of iOS, as well as a cloud service for storing and crunching certain types of personal health data. At the very most we’ll see an all inclusive API-based ecosystem that invites participation from non-Apple apps and devices, and also loops in doctors, health plans and health care providers.