Apple Watch and HealthKit: providing the health data you need

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Apple Watch since it launched earlier this year. Most people see it as a convenient way to get notifications without taking out their phone. Of course, as a wearable, there’s a lot more to it than just pushing pings: it’s an excellent step in the direction of pulling data as well.

The Apple Watch — and the recently popularized HealthKit are two examples of how people are using wearables and mobile devices to record information about their daily activities. With the number of sensors equipped in these tiny devices today, the possibilities seem endless for the amount of data that we can track and collect about ourselves — or our users.

How is the data being collected?

With the release of WatchOS 2 and iOS 9, we’ve taken a look at some of the features available to developers in helping you collect data about your every day life.

The watch uses photo sensors, a gyroscope, accelerometer, and your phone’s GPS and WiFi: combining to detect your pulse, movement and location. While most mobile phones gave access to a lot of this information already — pulse sensors, and the context of the device being attached to your wrist provide and interesting angle to data collection.

Apps for fitness enthusiasts have tapped into this type of data for years, tracking running routes, bike rides, even step counters. However, with fragmented 3rd party apps, and separate wearables like Fitbit, the data has never really been accessible in a central place before. Apple Watch and HealthKit address that challenge through unifying health data for developers.

What is being done with the data?

Or better yet: who is using this data? And why? Do users have a choice in the matter?

With Apple’s HeathKit, now users can track and store this data in a central and secure location. Further, many apps running on their Watch or phone can contribute to the data being recorded. And the user has control of the data, choosing when and how to share it. Apple has been clear about trying to address users’ privacy concerns recently, and together with iOS 9, giving control of that data to the users is a positive step.

Why do users want to record this data?

A user doesn’t care what their heart rate was at 2am — but they care about what it means. There are an ever growing number of apps out there to help explain it to them.

Some current popular uses of this data are for:

  • Sleep tracking: to get better data as to how a person is sleeping
  • High-performance athletes: to help fine tune their golf swing, cycling, running performance
  • Everyday fitness tracking: for someone just looking to get on track with their exercise
  • Symptom and vital sign tracking: a more experimental feature right now, but one with huge potential

What’s next for wearables?

While the Apple Watch is a fun toy, and many people will use it to learn more about themselves and their overall health and fitness, the real breakthroughs that will likely come are in the medical/health fields.

Patients who need to closely monitor health indicators will be able to do this non-invasively, with the ability to share their data in real time with their health care providers, and monitor progress, or get help when its needed.

Also, in clinical research — where it has formerly been difficult to source participants: researchers can find these people and gather data using Apple’s ResearchKit, which taps into data stored in HealthKit, that the participant can opt into sharing with medical researchers. All frictionlessly, remotely and nearly automatically.

Apple isn’t the only company getting into the game either — Android Wear is similar to the Apple Watch, but isn’t quite at the same technical or marketing level yet. There are any number of other wearable devices already or soon to be released; but none come with such a large audience as willing to hand over data as those created by Apple. That means a valuable opportunity for any company or organization looking to help their customers or users turn their data into actionable insights or change.

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