The iPhone 7 doesn’t have a lot of hardware changes on the way, but there are some intriguing hints that Apple has some serious plans for its software. In fact, with the moves Apple’s been making, it looks ready to be, essentially, a doctor in your pocket. But why is Apple’s next move into healthcare?
The entire tech industry lost it when fitness trackers caught on, but Apple’s moves have had little to do with tracking your steps or telling you to eat more brown rice and steamed vegetables. Sure, it debuted the Health app in 2014, but since then, Apple has instead been focused on the big picture. They have been continually refining ResearchKit — a software architecture that allows doctors and researchers to design and run detailed health studies over time, not least by letting them recruit anybody with an iPhone for the study. One example Apple is touting heavily is mPower, a study tracking thousands of Parkinson’s sufferers.
Apple has also laid the groundwork to source massive amounts of anonymous health data for doctors to sort through. Essentially, for data it might want to mine, it strips out identifiers while letting doctors pick through what the iPhone is passively gathering about walking, exercise, and so on. All with your explicit consent, of course, but even if only 10% of iPhone users agree to it, that’s still an enormous trove of data.
And Apple is expanding into the medical arena in other ways. Recently it bought medical records startup Gliimpse, which specializes in chronic disease management and clarifies the sometimes messy web of medical jargon for patients. And the Apple Watch is getting an upgrade as well, including its own GPS chip. It can already track your heartbeat, and now it appears it’ll be offering even more health data to crunch. But what’s Apple’s end game?
That’s a good question. Apple’s never really been an industrial company, although in the past it’s embraced its popularity with educators. But this is far more ambitious, with Apple attempting to be the technical bedrock on which the future of medical studies rests. Simultaneously, it seems to want to push out its medical data collection to doctors across the world and get them looking at data for more insight. It may also be a feedback loop, where Apple improves its health apps based on the feedback of doctors and has third parties design apps to offer more health tracking. We’re really at the start of Apple’s ambitions, and we’ll likely learn much more about them on September 7.