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Google And Apple—Take My Fitness Data, Please!

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self. 

This summer is shaping up to be a very healthy season—if you’re a maker of digital fitness apps. Both Apple and Google are scheduled to hold their big, annual events for developers, with new programming tools for health software taking center stage.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the star of the show seems likely to be the rumored Healthbook, a repository for biological signals—“biosignals,” for short. And Google seems poised to unveil details of Android Wear, its new platform for wearable devices, at Google I/O.

Healthbook, which 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman has reported on extensively, will reportedly organize biosignals like weight, heart rate, blood pressure, nutrition, and blood sugar into one database—presumably accessible, with a user’s permission, to any application running on an iPhone or iPad.

Google hasn’t given out many details on Android Wear yet, but it appears that it will draw on an existing fitness API to pull fitness summaries from existing apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal.

Some Healthy Consolidation

This is good news, because the digital health and fitness sector is incredibly fragmented right now. It’s too hard to move even very simple data from one app to another. Right now, for example, if I’m lucky enough to shed some pounds, I’ve got about 10 different apps where I can record the achievement.

Where possible, I’ve connected my apps and devices to each other—but that just results in a mess of duplicate data. For example, my MyFitnessPal calorie log will end up with three different records of a morning workout, as I attempt to track my exercises with a variety of distinct apps.

The smartest move for Apple and Google would be to avoid creating their own fitness apps, aside from very simple data-display tools. Instead, they should use their clout with developers—the stick of app-store approval and the carrot of promotion in those stores—to encourage app makers to strive for compatibility with one another.

Sharing Is Caring—About Saving Lives

The big mobile-platform providers could also make it easier to share medical records, particularly the informal ones that consumers create for themselves using popular apps. It should be far easier for me to give a personal trainer or a nutritionist a complete data dump of my food intake. Doctors managing patients with diabetes could benefit from real-time access to blood-sugar numbers. It’s far easier to see the medical establishment striking deals with two big companies to securely share this data than with a host of small app makers.

Most importantly, consumers may be more willing to engage with fitness- and health-tracking apps if they know the data will get stored securely somewhere, with a familiar brand name, in a format they can move over to a new app if something better comes along.

This week at the TED conference in Vancouver, Google CEO Larry Page said that better sharing of medical records could save 100,000 lives a year. That may be an optimistic estimate. But by drawing more people into the practice of measuring their bodies’ data stream, Google and Apple could improve many more lives than that.

Photo by Shutterstock

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