Google, Apple Want to Take Healthcare IT Mainstream

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At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) earlier this month, CEO Tim Cook and other executives unveiled HealthKit, an app designed to consolidate health and fitness data within an iOS dashboard.

HealthKit can list everything from cholesterol levels to calories burned, with an “emergency card” of contacts and pertinent data (blood type, etc.) accessible via the iOS lock screen. In theory, HealthKit will also have the ability to interact with apps from third-party developers, such as Nike’s FuelBand platform.

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But at least one of Apple’s biggest rivals seems unwilling to give the company an unimpeded run of the healthcare-app space: according to Forbes, Google plans on launching a service named Google Fit, which will collect data from “popular fitness trackers and health-related apps” and work as a bridge between wearable electronics and Google’s various cloud-based services. (Forbes relied on multiple anonymous sources “with knowledge of the company’s plans” for the story.) Google will reportedly unveil the software at its upcoming Google I/O conference.

Is this an example of the usual tit-for-tat between tech companies, in which rivals are duty-bound to emulate whatever new app or service hits the market, or are Apple and Google helping kick off a much larger trend in healthcare IT? That’s potentially a multi-billion-dollar question, with significant relevance to both hardware and software designers: If it’s a trending sub-market, there are jobs to be had and profits to be made over the next several years.

Other companies have already launched healthcare initiatives centered on mobile devices and apps, most notably Samsung, which offers health-monitoring software in conjunction with the Gear Fit (the company’s smartwatch) and Galaxy smartphones. Earlier this year, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata reportedly told other executives that his company would begin expanding into healthcare, among other non-gaming segments. There are also specialized firms such as FitBit, which recently announced that it was developing an app for Windows Phone 8.1, and Nike, which has poured considerable resources into its FuelBand business.

But if the world’s IT companies seem to be readying for a healthcare revolution, it’s unclear whether the public is truly interested in ecosystems that use software and wearable electronics to monitor health. While it could be, as with smartphones, a case of the public not knowing it wants something until it actually sees it in daily use, there’s also the possibility that the demand simply doesn’t exist for commercialized health-tracking.

For developers, software engineers and others the health-tracking market could be the ultimate case of wait-and-see: If consumers turn HealthKit and the rumored Google Fit into hit products, that could more than justify the time and expense of building third-party apps and, perhaps, hardware.

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