Date: Tuesday, June 10th, 2014, 08:24
Category: Apple, Apps, Features, Health, iOS, Software
Do a search for “health tracker” in the App Store and you’ll get a list of 500 apps before the search truncates the list. Health apps are a dime a dozen. The apps track everything from diet (calories, weight) to activities (running, biking) to vital body readings (blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate), some integrated with hardware such as Withings Blood Pressure Monitor. When Apple finally releases its Health app, what will make it any different or more valuable than the other 500 apps? Well, according to Dr. Thomas J. Morrow who holds the position of Chief Medical Officer at Next IT, developers of virtual assistant technology for healthcare, Apple needs to include 3 vital functions if the Health app is to set itself apart from the crowd.
Dr. Morrow believes that current health tracking apps simply record what you’ve done and having a history of your activities isn’t very useful. To provide a real benefit, the app first needs to suggests ways to improve health. The app needs to actively develop and recommend health goals based on your history, not just record a bunch of numbers, and adapt your activities dynamically to meet those goals. I’ve seen apps that appear to do this (I have about a dozen apps on my phone now), but generally those apps are doing math and telling you that you need to burn ‘x’ number of calories based on height, weight, and activity time. He also seems to suggest that the app find and report suggestions to help you, based on your current state in relation to your goals and activities.
His next suggestion is to tie Siri into the app to act as a health coach. Working for a company that develops virtual assistants for Health, Dr. Morrow believes that Siri has the potential to take on this role thus making a number of health tasks easier, such as medication reminders based on the medicine’s optimal effectiveness and verbal encouragement for other conditions.
Finally, the doctor believes that for any of this to be really useful, the Health app (or HealthKit) needs to have the ability to learn how to respond based on your current health. Trying to loose weight? Siri omits ice cream parlors or fast food restaurants when you ask it what food is in the area, or perhaps makes suggestions from the search results based on the restaurant’s menu.
I’d have to agree, there are few apps that perform tasks that I couldn’t do another way, and after a while those recorded numbers of how many steps I took become irrelevant out of any context. People who are really serious about fitness probably dig all those stats, but the more average person who just wants to make some lifestyle changes to improve health may need a more personal touch. In the meantime, maybe you can get by with an app assistant that insults you if you don’t exercise and at least tries to make it a little more fun. Granted, we’ll have to see how the iWatch fits into the puzzle, but at best I’d think it simply consolidates the collection of devices on your wrist or belt into one integrated monitor.
Do you agree with Dr. Morrow’s suggestions? Do you think there is something else that would make Apple’s Health app stand out (besides being connected to an iWatch)? What tracking apps do you use, and are they easy to use and perform all the functions you need? Let us know in the comments or on the Facebook page.