Apple Healthbook Rumor: Industry Experts React

Posted in Mobile Health by Chris Wiltz on April 3, 2014

 How will device makers react if Apple's Healthbook is everything we're led to believe?

Two weeks ago, a reported leak sparked rumors Apple is developing Healthbook, a health and fitness tracking platform, presumably set to be unveiled with the release of iOS 8 in June. Healthbook features a variety of functions and looks to be an all-in-one software platform for device makers looking to create health tracking hardware. Rather than having to create their own software, hardware makers may soon be able to easily tether their device to the iPhone.

For software companies a healthcare app from Apple could provide a center platform where multiple apps could provide their data in a simple, efficient way. “Lots of companies have cool software and no device or a cool device and no software,” says Dr. Leslie Saxon, executive director at the USC Center for Body Computing in Southern California. For Saxon, the great potential in a platform like Healthbook is in marrying high-quality hardware and software for sensing purposes.

Devices like the Alivecor, that tether to the iPhone, could see new potential in the Healthbook platform.
It will be interesting how devices already on the market will move forward with this news. Companies like AliveCor, makers of the iPhone-based ECG device of the same name, might see future devices adopting the Healthbook platform rather than a standalone app.
“For AliveCor, a healthcare app from Apple could provide a center platform where multiple apps could provide their data too in a simple but efficient way,” says Euan Thomson, president and CEO of AliveCor. “This could promote and streamline where patients and physicians store and access their healthcare data. A single source database could, in effect, lower healthcare costs, and provide patients and physicians with a more complete picture of their overall healthcare and, for us, increase the ability to democratize ECGs.”
Apple has yet to confirm or deny any information regarding the leak. Sonny Vu, CEO of Misfit Wearables, makers of the Misfit Shine health tracker, is cautious of how much information from the Apple leak may be accurate.“You never know about these kinds of 'leaks' so I wouldn't take them too seriously,” Vu, says. It's true that much of what revealed could be purely conceptual in nature. However Vu comments that “If such an initiative exists where there will be one app to collect all your health data in one place, that'll be pretty exciting for all of us device makers who already connect to iOS - a nice step towards a unified standard we can all use.”
Neither Misfit Wearables or AliveCor were able to comment on whether they are actively working with Apple to update or develop new devices for the Healthbook platform. But Vu shares some forward-looking comments, [There are] tons of possibilities that exist beyond [ a unified standard] - it's really what will happen post-Healthbook that'll be really interesting.”
With more than 100'000 health and fitness apps available, consumers are facing a market that gives them too much choice. No one wants too many separate apps and devices for their health metrics. But as more large consumer-oriented companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Facebook enter the healthcare space such issues are becoming increasingly important.
Saxon believes a platform for aggregating and consolidating the glut of apps and hardware available would be nothing but good for global healthcare.“As a person who works in mobile health and digital health, if you tell me there's a company that has a device that a billion people use I think there's an enormous potential,” she says. “If you showed me an iPhone, even without the healthcare apps, I'd say it could vastly improve global healthcare.
But creating a singular platform won't be enough. The true challenge for mHealth and digital health companies will be to keep the experience engaging for consumers. “A lot of the winners in this space will have to do with the quality of the signal. It's one thing to use an accelerometer and pedometer. But if you have a very good sensor and you have medical grade information, this aggregation and the quality of the experience, I would say that's a good thing.”
Many of these consumer companies have a good starting point because of their large customer base. “The thing I love about those big [companies] is there's a pretty big onramp when you have so many users who are willing to exchange their information for a service,” Saxon says. She remarked that even backend companies like Intel, which just recently entered the mHealth market with a $100M purchase of Basis Science, have a lot to bring on the analytical side of things. “I really look forward to having that multidisciplinary process to extend the research of healthcare,” Saxon adds, “I think these companies are going to really enable us to do aspirational things.”
-Chris Wiltz, Associate Editor, MD+DI

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