Health Experiences
Peter Heywood wrote this on June 23, 2014 / no comments

healthkit launchAlmost a decade ago, when Apple launched the iPhone, one of the world’s best known branding experts, Al Ries, wrote about the perpetual failure of convergence and the challenge Apple was facing. In a nutshell, he didn’t believe that consumers would gravitate to something that could do everything. This fuzzy positioning, he believed, would mean that it effectively did nothing.

Although Ries had plenty of past evidence from other companies and products to back up his argument, he was most definitely proven wrong with Apple. With the way paved by the iPod, the iPhone, as part of an ecosystem that included an OS music, media content, thousands of apps and stores (digital and bricks and mortar) to flog it all in, disrupted our perception of what a “phone” could be and do. It truly converged things we never thought of as being together before. The iPhone itself (although not the iOS) is the market leader for smartphone in the US but beyond that, it has defined the category. It’s what everything is compared to.

So what to make of the non-product announcement at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on June 2nd. Plenty of news about Swift, a new and friendlier programming language, a new iOS, and a much more open set of APIs all bundled around a Kit brand name. Is Apple out of product ideas and making a fast move into content development?

Of interest, of course, is a piece of ‘Kit’ called HealthKit. It’s Apple’s entry into the Digital mHealth API market, whose vendors are all seeking to be the aggregator of consumer and provider health data, mostly from monitors but also from technologies like EMRs. It’s a pretty crowded market, including massive companies like Qualcomm (QualcommLife) and Aetna (CarePass) and smaller concerns like Jawbone (Up) and HealthTap. [See @Paul_Sonnier’s great and growing list of APIs at http://storyofdigitalhealth.com/api/ – thanks, Paul]

It’s also by all reports not a very successful market. While there are huge numbers of monitors and health and fitness apps on the iTunes and Google Play stores, the sustained use of such tools by consumers is low. Many reasons are given for this – the multiplicity of devices and/or apps you need to get a full health and wellness picture. The hassle of downloading results. The absence of timely and valuable feedback from the information we gather. And maybe, the fact that for most of us, this constant measurement and evidence lays bare our lack of success in hitting healthy targets.

Yet the big players keep on charging at the consumer-directed health market. Google shut down its Google Health offering in 2013 because of lack of interest yet it has responded to Apple’s HealthKit with its own aggregator, Google Fit. opening up its APIs by encouraging even more feature and experience-laden apps and integrated devices on Android. Others will follow suit, but may possibly discover their best way forward is to integrate with the new Apple iOS or Android, because it’s now easier.

Two related questions then.

The first is about Apple’s motives. The company has made a lot of money selling digital information, but it still is at heart a product company, creating its ecosystem to move more phones and tablets. Certainly, there is nothing in Apple’s business model that suggests it will participate or benefit directly from the lowered healthcare costs believed to be enabled by consumer-directed health, unlike, say Aetna and CarePass. Nor does it have the motivation of Google, the world’s largest advertising agency to ultimately leverage everything in Fit for the data it can sell or repurpose. In spite of the absence of new product at the WWDC this year, HealthKit really does seem to be a precursor to launching new devices, such as wearables, branded by Apple and, one assumes, by third-party vendors.

Related, the second question is about the potential impact of Apple’s involvement on consumer behavior. Will the combination of Apple’s new-found openness and history of making convergence work lead to a transformation of the consumer-directed health market? Will Apple be able to pull off what others have struggled with and actually get consumers to sustain use of health-monitoring devices and apps (aka patient engagement)?

Apple caught management and marketing leaders like Al Ries (not to mention competitors) out a decade ago with the iPhone. Now we’re faced with a broadly analogous situation in healthcare. Many devices. Design as, if not an afterthought, the step-child to technologies. Many standards and integration that’s anything but seamless.

You can be sure that Apple is going to address these, but once the gloss wears off of Apple’s sure-to-be-announced products, it will be interesting to see if it all sticks. Here’s hoping it does.

 

Peter Heywood wrote this on June 23, 2014 / no comments

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