During the years the App Store has gathered thousands of health and fitness apps. Some of these are simple pedometers, while others try to capture users’ lives as a whole, including nutrition, hydration, exercises, and sleep. The recent trend of fitness wearables such as Fitbit Flex and Up by Jawbone push the limits of what (and how accurate) information apps can collect from their users. While all of this is happening on the iPhone, it’s no wonder Apple wants to be a part of it.
At WWDC 2014, Apple announced HealthKit. It is a new Apple framework for storing and sharing health and fitness information between apps. HealthKit does its work behind the scenes and an app called Health handles the stage. The Health app works as a hub for all the information stored with HealthKit and lets users manage permissions to access this information. HealthKit can store a mind-boggling variety of data from basic personal information to lab results, nutrition, and vital signs. Simply put, it’s able to store all essential information about your exercise, eating and sleeping habits, and makes it possible to gain wider understanding of your health and fitness.
The advantage that HealthKit brings is the ability to share information between apps. In the past, all apps handled and stored their data in isolation from each other. With HealthKit, they can now access and update a common database of health and fitness information which allows them to collaborate on a level that wasn’t possible before. A pedometer app can track your steps, and a nutrition app can monitor your calorie intake and adjust its daily recommendation of calorie intake based on how active you've been. Even though HealthKit brings the apps together and allows them to communicate, the control over this communication is kept with the user. Apple has designed the access controls so that they enable users to define what information should be available to an app. In practice, users can allow access to each tidbit of information individually and revoke access at any point. It's an elegant improvement to how Apple has traditionally handled user permissions.
It will be interesting to see how well fitness tracker device manufacturers such as Fitbit, Jawbone and others will integrate their apps and platforms with HealthKit. Currently, they're uploading the collected information through an app to their own servers. This allows them to build their business around the data they collect from the users and apply analytics and base their marketing on it. HealthKit is not going to replace this model but the manufacturers will probably integrate HealthKit with their products and it’ll co-exist with the current approach. This opens new possibilities for app developers who can now access health and fitness information to power their apps without the need to integrate directly with tracker device manufacturers.
Apple has been rumoured to unveil their own wearable device later this year. Apart from rumours, nothing is known about it. The currently sold health and fitness wearables are rather simple devices. They usually track a user’s movements and try to deduce step counts and other information based on that. Considering the release of HealthKit, Apple’s device will probably do the same but with better integration to other Apple technologies.
Along the fitness and health wearables, related information platforms such as HealthKit, Google Fit and the implicated growth of health and fitness information, it’ll become easier for ordinary people to reason about their health and fitness habits. This will hopefully lead to healthier, happier people. In the future, health and fitness information won’t just be a privilege of enthusiastic early adopters of quantified self movement — instead it’ll spread among ordinary people.