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At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that iOS 8, which will be released in the autumn, will include HealthKit, an application that will pull together data from a range of sports, wellness, and mHealth applications hosted on its devices or wearable devices that are connected to them. Apple has taken a cautious step with HealthKit, but it is worth looking at the plans and their potential.

HealthKit has been heralded in some quarters as Apple’s entry into the mHealth market, but that overlooks the fact that iPods and iPhones used to have embedded proprietary wireless specifically to connect to Nike+ devices and collect activity data. In addition, iOS has long been a target platform for developing and delivering a wealth of mhealth applications and cable connected devices.

In many ways, Healthkit follows a pattern already set by Apple’s entry into mobile payments. Where Passbook has provided a repository for a range of payment-related applications hosted on iOS devices, HealthKit looks to do the same for sports, wellness, and mHealth applications. Although HealthKit will take data from third-party apps and hardware devices, Apple has also seeded its uptake with its own Health app.

What HealthKit provides is a place to draw in this data and provide data presentation and sharing between different applications. More importantly, it will also provide a platform to connect this collected personal data with healthcare providers. Apple emphasized this key potential, highlighting how HealthKit will connect with a Mayo Clinic app and potentially with electronic health records from specialist Epic Systems.

Apple, just as Samsung did the week before, is paving its way to become the broker between end-users and healthcare providers by looking to deliver data between the two in a secure and valuable way. Apple has put the emphasis on developers bringing their applications and services to its hardware and infrastructure. This removes much of the complexity surrounding mHealth application development, integration, and regulatory compliance. It also places Apple head-to-head with Samsung's own Voice of the Body strategy announced last week, although Apple so far lacks a hardware support initiative along the lines of Samsung’s Simband, which Samsung is hoping will drive developers to its SAMI cloud platform.

What both Apple and Samsung are underpinning is the developing value in being able to securely collect mHealth data and distribute it, with consent, to a wide range of potential ecosystem players, including individuals, government health agencies, healthcare providers and payers, medical device manufacturers, wellness coaches, and diet planners. That market, however, is still in the future. Ahead of it is the work to make that platform as open and as attractive as possible to drive data population within it. So far, Apple's strategy relies on the attractiveness of that platform to bring hardware and software vendors to it. Samsung is not only fueling its cloud platform play with the Simband, but it also sells its own wearable devices such as the Galaxy Gear and the Gear Fit.

 

Now that both Apple and Samsung have set out their stalls to be mHealth data brokers, the race is underway to lure as many disparate, creative, and popular devices, applications, and services to their respective offerings. Underpinning both strategies is a belief that consumer IT brands have a major role to play in the development of a new generation of healthcare services. That is such a significant shift in how healthcare operates and serves its patients that, in the short-term at least, both will most likely need the other to succeed.

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