In May and June 2014 we saw announcements from Apple, Google, and Samsung about aggregating the health and fitness tracking data from wearable devices and smartphones. These announcements serve as validation that the convergence of personal fitness tracking data with clinically relevant biometrics is accelerating and that the smartphone and wearable devices are at the center of this new world of health IT
As a part of Apple’s iOS8 rollout will be the “Health” app offering a dashboard of health and fitness data to consumers, along with a developer product called “Healthkit”. The announcement included mention of two of healthcare’s top brands- Mayo and Epic as collaborators. The Mayo collaboration is not surprising as they frequently and non-exclusively collaborate with many health IT companies. Epic on the other hand was a surprise, at least to me, because of their traditional walled garden culture.
Also in June, Google announced “Google Fit” at its annual developer conference I/O. It is a competing vision for mobile aggregator of fitness data from multiple devices and services. Google’s development partners include Nike, Withings, Adidas, Runkeeper, and other fitness app companies. Google’s approach seems to be focused on the fitness segment rather than clinical implications touted by Apple, but with Google’s development of glucose-sensing contact lenses I predict that clinical apps will be incorporated into the platform. Google is consistently one of the most innovative large companies in the world and through their Android success have deep experience in working within an open ecosystem.
Just days before Apple’s developers conference, Samsung announced Simband, a “reference design” describing their concept of “what a smart health device should be”. Explicitly “not a product”, the Simband reference design will allow developers to create apps that can send data to the Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions (S.A.M.I) as a data broker. It promises to be a secure, open, and diverse data platform. Samsung has partners too, must notably the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), via its Digital Health Innovation Lab, an accelerator space for startups. Samsung is calling Simbaud a “platform” even if it is not (yet) a product. That’s the beauty- and peril- of calling something a “platform”, even if it exists only as a reference design.
What does this mean for health startups?
It largely depends on what your technical capabilities are, where you are located, and especially who your initial customers are. Customer segmentation is the key to deciding for whom to develop first. Who are your target customers and what platform will be the most natural fir for them- not in 2014, but in 2015-17, when this battle of the personal health data aggregators will play out. I do not think this will be a “winner take all” battle, as each platform will continue to have a core niche of users who have made their smartphone choices and are unlikely to switch unless their vendor makes them look elsewhere through a major change in UI (as Microsoft did with Windows 8). The winners of the smart watch market will have a lot to do with it as well, if consumers ever adopt them at scale. But there will definitely be a winner in the consumer health aggregation platform category. The winning platform will gain the greatest share of those developers who survive by solving real problems for (paying) customers and by retaining them as they go through their multiple device upgrade cycles.
It is encouraging news to digital health startups that each of these consumer IT giants is looking to open up their development platforms to an ecosystem of external partners. They all realize that in this early state of the industry that nobody knows which apps will hit and which (as most do) will flop. So it’s everyone into the pool, and let the customers decide who wins.