Sunday, October 24, 2021

Apple’s new Health app finally brings something to life

Much like the App Store itself, Apple’s Health app is still to be tamed. But one thing it has that’s special is data.

The ultimate win-win is that the data is collected in one place for easy access by all.

The Health app has just been redesigned on iOS 13, bringing with it its biggest launch to date: activity tracking. Apple claims it’s the first to tap into its new HealthKit framework for data transparency, and the first time it’s put detailed counting capability into a standalone app.

“The AirPods were one of our most requested things and we went and made it,” said Liz Grant, director of product marketing for Apple’s healthcare team. “[That’s] a huge change for fitness. The iPhones have always given you notifications and once you’ve logged something, it’s easy to continue with sharing with your friends or family, or starting an Apple Watch challenge.”

This latest release is the first time the Health app will be able to automatically track activity. It will do so using the heart rate data from the AirPods, iPhone, and Apple Watch, tracking activities in the seven traditional categories of exercise such as jogging, walking, cycling, or running, and the more recently introduced activity classes, such as dance, Zumba, or yoga.

The data will be made available in the Health App Store, which will have the final say over what health information the user can share, though Apple has laid the groundwork for more robust decision making with the app-makers it has partnered with.

That includes “biometric information” (that’s the Apple name for fitness metrics we’re accustomed to from the likes of Fitbit) including heart rate, temperature, respiration, blood pressure, heart rate variability, and blood oxygenation.

The Apple Health app has remained stuck in beta mode for the past few years, and the app is for the most part a mess. The Interface has a squabble of buttons on the bottom, user interface is clunky, and there are few built-in features.

Compared to Amazon’s Alexa, which is in constant beta, and has no end-product, the Health app remains a very similar experience. But what it does have are features that its competitors don’t, including deep integration with Apple products, including the iOS operating system and OS X systems, as well as the Apple Watch.

The other key feature is access to Apple’s data through the Health App Store. Last year, the company partnered with a number of healthcare companies to provide API access so that healthcare users could import their health data in a quick and easy manner into the Health app. The goal is to provide easy analytics into what’s currently called the unstructured data they’re keeping track of, but the initiative is too far along to change the name.

To start, the data will be tightly controlled by the Apple Health Care organization. Users will only be able to import data from privately held healthcare accounts, medical records or other approved sources. Only their Apple device, and not the cloud, will be used to store the data. This means data entered into the app will only be workable on the device, but there are no restrictions as to the types of medical records or questions that can be asked about the data.

When you tap to create an account or select your data source from the Health app Store’s menu, you will see the data you can import and exactly what data from that source Apple will accept. It’s a bit like what used to be done with the MeeGo developer portal, when apps would initially draw on specific health data for a single app.

Data will only be shared in a two-way connection between the user and the application that pulled it in. Apple will only approve the specific data for the app you’re using it for, as the healthcare provider makes their approval the only checkpoint at this stage.

Apple does want to build up its own health data, to provide a fuller picture of each person’s health. But it’s a two-way interaction between the user and the data, which is for the most part a positive step to bringing the public closer to their health data.

“When users share their data and get a benefit from it, they’re going to try to encourage their friends to do that,” Grant said. “And when the wellness and medical community has seen the value in sharing, they’ll share it.”

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