Are Apple’s new offerings really ready for healthcare?

RPBLOGApple fans were waiting with bated breath for this week. And in usual Apple style, the company did not disappoint the vast numbers of people who eagerly sat through a staged presentation of the new products Apple will be foisting upon us in the next six months.

The new iPhone 6 is a sleeker, stylish phone with a bigger screen, a plethora of new groundbreaking apps such as Apple Pay, and powerful technology that could make the phone even more personal than it is now.

And as if that were not enough, Apple provided a double-whammy by showcasing the new Apple Watch, a truly innovative and stylish mini device that will change the simple task of telling the time.

With these two new devices, Apple also began to stake a claim in the health and wellness arena.

Let’s take the phone. It comes bearing the next generation of Apple’s powerful M chip—the M8. This chip enables Apple to turn the iPhone into a fitness tracker. The next generation motion coprocessor and sensor will know whether you’re riding a bike, running, or speed walking. It will also be able to estimate distance as well as how far you’ve gone. Finally, it will track elevation, thanks to its very own barometer, which will pick out your relative elevation by measuring air pressure.

All of this data will be collected by the new HealthKit app with powerful and intuitive dashboards and displays to help the owners of the device to begin tracking and analyzing all manner of activities.

The Apple Watch enters a largely unregulated personal health tracker business, taking on Fitbit, Jawbone, and other wearable devices. This is a powerful device. It is a pedometer, a heart-rate monitor, and it comes with a robust array of fitness tracking features, including “rings” to track your movement.

The Move ring will track your normal amount of activity, such as walking. The Exercise ring will track all manner of exercise routines, and the Stand ring will measure how long you stand or sit during the day.

But the watch also becomes your personal coach and will give you customized reminders to reach fitness goals. It will have its own Workout app, which will measure calories, time spent working up a sweat, and a variety of other activities. Finally, it will also gently nag or encourage you toward doing things more slowly than you planned. All of this will be shared with the HealthKit app.

Apple plans to offer a sports version of the watch, which comes with an alloy case that’s 60 percent stronger than the regular version.

The Apple Watch looks like it will become a serious contender in the fitness tracking market, but the steep pricing may make other fitness trackers more appealing to people.

From a regulatory perspective, the Apple Watch, while not being deemed a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will be watched closely. The personal health data collected by individuals for their own use is outside the federal laws controlling the use of patient information.

This collection of data opens up a debate on privacy, and as this is health-related data, there will be extra scrutiny on how this data is collected and used, and more importantly, who has access to it.

However, the Feds are closely watching this fast-growing market. The FDA has already issued a list of mobile applications it is watching closely. The list includes software used by individuals to track and log personal data on exercise, food consumption and sleep patterns, and to make suggestions about health and wellness.

The major issue for privacy advocates will be how this personal data is used by the device makers and developers of apps. How marketing uses this data for profiling and targeting will become a place for regulators to identify safeguards.

Apple is also doing its bit and has made it clear to developers of health apps that it wants to protect privacy. This comes on the heels of the broadly covered celebrity hacking debacle that occurred a few weeks ago, opening up a debate about the collection and backup of data from mobile devices that synchronize with the cloud.

Last week, Apple updated its guidelines for health app developers, stating that apps working with HealthKit may not use the personal data gathered for advertising or data-mining uses other than for helping manage an individual’s health and fitness, or for medical research.

The guidelines also say that app developers cannot share data with third parties without the user’s consent.

It will be interesting to see how the FDA, as well as privacy bodies in the more stringent and regulated environments in Europe, deal with the brave new world that Apple is forging for us.

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