It’s been a few months now since Apple unveiled their first foray into the multi-trillion dollar health sector with HealthKit, but it’s still difficult to say what they have in mind in the long run. For those who weren’t tracking the WWDC announcements this year, HealthKit is the toolset provided to developers to capture health information (breath and heart rates, nutrition, etc.) and store it in a shared user profile across the device. This profile is visible in the Health app included in iOS 8, providing a central dashboard for all of the information that’s being piped in from any number of applications.
For developers, this makes storing data much more appealing since Apple is taking the security of this data very seriously. Historically, the penalties for failing to secure health data properly have been draconian to the point that companies have avoided trying to store the data entirely for fear of being bankrupted by a minor oversight in their code. There is some risk for developers that making the information that they track accessible to all other apps could be sacrificing a competitive advantage, but the trade-off is likely worthwhile for anybody who doesn’t want to dedicate a huge chunk of resources to software security. In the case of some products, the availability of a shared profile also streamlines the onboarding experience, obviating the need for manual input of any of the metrics already being tracked.
There is a strong incentive for Apple to make this platform attractive to developers as HealthKit users will have a bank of data tied directly to their iOS device, and that data will not be transferrable to a competing product if HealthKit gains significant traction. Considering how much Apple has invested into the technology, though, we likely haven’t seen all they have up their sleeve. While they’ve been tightlipped about their long-term strategy in the health sector, the Apple Watch announcement made it clear that they’re in this for the long haul. The demo of sharing one’s heartbeat through the device may have been the only part that was addressed on stage, but it’s clear that Apple has their sights set higher than that. Their recent patent on headphones equipped with biometric sensors suggests that Apple is investigating a complete suite of data recording tools tied directly to the OS. For the dedicated Apple user it would be possible to generate a complete health profile effortlessly, making the platform much more attractive to developers in the health field. Additionally, it provides Apple with tremendous leverage for any other plans they may have to claim more of the market for themselves and would allow them to compete directly with existing products like Fitbit with the possibility to expand to something much greater down the road.
Apple has confirmed future plans to expand HealthKit to enable sharing with doctors and other healthcare professionals. With that expansion, there is real potential to remove many of the headaches involved in collecting and consolidating health information, and to dethrone some of the big players currently entrenched in the medical field that relying on outmoded technology. Those other companies aren’t going to part with their market share easily, but much of Apple’s success has come from simply looking at what the competition is doing and doing it better. Judging by the moves that they’ve made so far, they’re confident that they can do the same here and what we’re seeing is only the beginning.