Apple’s plans to redefine mobile health

The lure of wearable technology and its application to health is tremendous. So tremendous that even the richest company on the planet, Apple, can’t resist it.

The company’s interest in healthcare and fitness tracking will be displayed in an iOS 8 application codenamed Healthbook capable of tracking several different health and fitness data points. Which data will the app monitor it is not clear but over the last weeks, speculation and mockups have intensified. Some say it will track bloodwork, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight.

Healthbook will read health and fitness data from wearable devices such as the iWatch Apple is also developing. The smart watch will serve as an accessory to the iPhone and other iOS devices, giving users easy at-a-glance access to common functions without having to take their larger devices out of their pockets or bags. It will also incorporate a number of sensors and biometrics. Rumors have suggested that the iWatch could also serve as a control device for home automation and there are reports suggesting it could come in multiple sizes for a customized fit.

Getting the “iWatch” and this app into the hands of consumers may take some time. Apple is not only on its own timetable for this product, but it will likely need to follow the schedules of governments. The company has begun meeting with the FDA regarding medical applications and last February was seeking people to test health related software.

Seven years out from the revolutionary iPhone’s introduction, Apple’s entry into the health and sensor world is not a matter of if it will happen, but it comes down to how long it will take for the company to implement its vision of reinventing mobile healthcare.

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Recreation of a screenshots of the Healthbook. Credit: 9to5mac.com

 

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The Big Data within you

Microsensors in your shoes compile data on where you go and what you do. Your workout clothes track your daily progress at the gym and tell you when to slow down or speed up. The pill you swallow reports back on the state of your digestion, vital signs, and overall wellbeing. And as you sleep, a headband monitors your REM patterns.

Sci-fi fantasy? Not at all. It is merely a glimpse into what might be possible through a movement called “The Quantified Self” that has become mainstream.

The Quantified Self employs technology, mobile devices, sensors embedded in clothing and wearable bands, to drive greater self-awareness by tracking data related to exercise, diet, weight and other health maintenance, financial management, learning and so forth. Almost 70% of the American adults already quantify their lives in areas related to health and wellness and this is just the beginning. Analysts are predicting that we will see even more growth in the months and years ahead. ABI predicts that more than 100M personal tracking devices will be sold each year by 2016. There are reasonable expectations that personal tracking will be a $12B industry by 2020. Investments have been huge, as well: Fitbit raised more than $40M this year, BodyMedia was bought by Jawbone for more than $100M, and personal informatics projects on Kickstarter have booked more than $6M in revenue alone in 2013.

While it’s clear these apps and devices have attracted a loyal following, most experts are still trying to figure out what to do with all of this data collected. For example, there are several challenges to overcome before using this data in healthcare practice. Quality is a big issue: the data need to be good enough to be used in a clinical setting. Not to drown physicians in a tsunami of personal data is another aspect to consider. Data streams need to reach practitioners in a format that’s easily consumable, searchable, and analyzable. Finally, these continuous data streams need to be contextualized as well. Doctors need to know what external factors could have caused, for example, a rapid spike in blood pressure or true diagnosis can’t happen.

In the video below you can get a glimpse on how the Quantified Self is already changing our lives. If you want numbers that show the blooming business of data have a look to this article published in Harvard Business Review. If you prefer a written introduction to the field you will probably enjoy this report at The Economist.