Smartphones as sensor platforms for health tracking

By September 7, 2010Apple, Consumer Internet

image Earlier in the year I wrote a couple of posts about the future of healthcare from a consumer products perspective.  One of my points was that data gathered from smart phones and specialist wireless health devices will enable a new generation of products, and I named a couple that I have been using.  I’m writing today about some new developments in this sphere.

Nike just released a new iPhone app which takes run tracking to a new level.  It uses the GPS sensor and accelerometer to track pace, distance, and calories burned and visually maps the run routes on Google Maps – see the picture insert.  Full review on VentureBeat.

I have been using Runkeeper, which does many of the same things, but with a less intuitive interface.  In particular Runkeeper makes it difficult to see exactly where on my run I go slowly and where I go at a better pace.  I’ve installed the Nike app and will try it out tomorrow.

Nike have slapped a £1.19 charge on the app though which I think is a strange decision.  Their reason for releasing the app must be brand promotion, and, given that any revenues Nike might earn from app sales will be negligible in the context of their apparel business, I would have thought their best strategy would be to get the maximum number of installs by making the app free.

This Nike app, and also Runkeeper, Gymfu and the others that I use make use of the sensors within the iPhone (accelerometer, GPS).  I’m also fascinated by the idea of third party sensors that connect to the iPhone to display data and sync with web apps.  The Withings scale I have at home works in this way and my next ask is for a heart rate monitor that works in the same way.

I haven’t been able to find one yet, but the device from ithelete in the pictures below points the way.  It connects with a heart rate monitor and runs analytics on the heart rhythm which guide how hard you should train on any given day.  That is a little sophisticated for my training requirements, but will bring information formerly only available to professionals to serious amateurs.

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  • The power of such portable monitoring applications will only continue to increase as the computing power available for processing continues in the same direction. What will be more interesting is if these applications can help in prevention efforts aimed at reducing the number of people who become ill and subsequently bring most of the costs to health care systems.

  • I expect to see more and more apps using the iPhone as a sensor. Pedal Brain offers essentially the equivalent for bikers: http://en.pedalbrain.com/

    The real value is in creating a service that makes this data actionable. Almost like a digital personal trainer that motivates you to go running today, even if just a little. Breaking the bigger goal down into smaller achievable challenges ensures people don’t either overtrain and give up or undertrain and make no progress.

  • Nic, I wonder if you had seen a McKinsey report a few months back which estimated the mobile healthcare opportunity at $50-60 billion in 2010. Their focus was the transfer of patient information and diagnostics from the mobile to healthcare providers – a space operators have increasingly become active in. These fitness apps are just the next chain in command which can eventually integrate all our health info along with fitness and diet regime in one place – and may become a monitor for health insurance companies as well. A brief analysis of the market space done a month back

    http://bit.ly/bhvdOp

  • Thanks for the pointer to Pedalbrain Dru. And you put it nicely re motivation – I’m hoping for services (maybe hardware enabled) that take advantage of great data and the ‘always with you’ characteristic of mobile that will be cheaper, more accessible, and more cost effective than personal trainers, thereby massively expanding the market and helping the world to get healthier.

  • Thanks Rhitu – interesting post, and it is certainly a big market. I’ve been focusing on the consumer app/device end because it is less encumbered by the need to deal with big companies and regulation. FitAide looks interesting, a bit like Fitbit but without the dedicated hardware. I’ve installed it on my iPhone to have a play.

  • The trend in sensors to more power at lower prices will also help. It is in keeping people fit that I see the real opportunity. I’m an early adopter in this space and if you have dedication and patience the tools are already pretty good. Soon they will be good enough to go mainstream. At least that’s my prediction.

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  • Great smartphone health apps

  • Shame on Nike for charging – The ithelete app looks like a winner

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