Apple has its sights set on another industry ripe for reinvention: the mobile healthcare and fitness world. Apple currently plans to release a new version of the iPhone operating system this year with health and fitness tracking integration as its headline feature, according to sources briefed on the plans. Apple’s work on such an operating system likely indicates that Apple is nearing the introduction of its long-awaited, sensor-laden “iWatch,” which sources say is well into development…
Apple plans for iOS 8 to include an application codenamed “Healthbook.” The software will be capable of monitoring and storing fitness statistics such as steps taken, calories burned, and miles walked. Furthermore, the app will have the ability to manage and track weight loss. The software will be a pre-installed challenger to offerings such as those from Nike and Fitbit, making it all the more intriguing that Apple CEO Tim Cook still sits on Nike’s Board of Directors.
Besides fitness tracking, a marquee feature of “Healthbook” will be the ability to monitor a user’s vital signs.
The application will be able to track a person’s blood pressure, hydration levels, heart rate, and potentially several other blood-related data points, such as glucose levels, according to our sources.
The software is also programmed to allow users to enter details about their medications so that they could be reminded to take pills at scheduled times. This will likely integrate with iOS’s existing Reminders application.
Last month, Apple executives Jeff Williams and Bud Tribble met with F.D.A. officials in the United States regarding health applications, as noted earlier today by the New York Times. However, actual details about what was discussed were not shared.
The “Healthbook” application is said to take multiple user interface cues from Apple’s own Passbook app, which is software for storing loyalty cards, coupons, and other materials normally stored in physical wallets.
The new health and fitness application’s interface is a stack of cards that can be easily swiped between. Each card represents a different fitness or health data point. The prototype logo for “Healthbook” is similar to Passbook’s icon, but it is adorned with graphics representing vital signs.
Sources warn that the health functionality could ultimately be removed from iOS 8 before its scheduled introduction. Apple develops several features for future operating systems and then finalizes which features make the cut for the release closer to launch.
While current iPhone hardware is capable of measuring steps due to the recently introduced M7 chipset’s motion tracking abilities, the smartphone is incapable of measuring vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate. Apple has patented technology for smartphones to track blood pressure, but it is unlikely that it plans to add such functionality to its iPhone lineup this year.
Instead, Apple has likely developed this new version of iOS with the upcoming iWatch in mind.
Sources have previously indicated that Apple’s wearable computer will have sensors to track and measure aspects of the human body. “Healthbook” could be the conduit for users to read the data that the iWatch will collect. Indeed, sources with knowledge of the iWatch’s development say that the future product is designed to be heavily reliant on the iPhone.
Based on the health information that iOS 8 is capable of reading, Apple’s wearable device will seemingly have sensors at least capable of measuring blood pressure, hydration, heart rate, and steps. iOS 8 combined with the iWatch is said to be able to monitor several other pieces of health and fitness data, but additional specifics are not as clear as of now.
Sources also hint that Apple has developed technologies to be able to pack several different sensors into a single chipset for miniaturization purposes.
As Cook said last year, “the whole sensor field is going to explode.” “It’s a little all over the place right now… with the arc of time, it will become clearer,” Apple’s chief added.
With iOS 8 likely to ship this year, a connection to the iWatch would seem to point to the wearable device also shipping in 2014.
Cook previously told Apple employees that “big plans” are on the roadmap for this year. Other than the speculation that emerges from Cook’s comment and Apple’s work on iOS 8, there has been little other indication that Apple plans to reveal its wearable product this year. Furthermore, another possibility, albeit a more unlikely one, is that iOS 8’s health functionality will be optimized for third-party health accessories in 2014 and Apple’s own hardware in future years.
A slew of blood pressure monitors, body weight scales, pedometers, heart rate monitors, fitness bands, and glucose meters that can connect wirelessly to iPhones already exist in the technology accessories market. Apple has even promoted these products in its online and retail stores. “Healthbook” could be a boon for the existing medical hardware market and make those devices more intuitive for end-users.
Last year, Apple hired several health, medical, and fitness experts to work on these hardware and software projects. Some of the notable names include former Nike advisor Jay Blahnik and former Senseonics vice president Dr. Todd Whitehurst.
This year, Apple added Ravi Narasimhan from general medical devices firm Vital Connect and Nancy Dougherty from startup Sano Intelligence to its iWatch development team. We have also learned that Apple has also hired Michael O’Reilly, a former executive at Masimo Corporation who worked on noninvasive pulse sensors, last summer.
Apple VP of Technology Kevin Lynch, hardware executive Bob Mansfield, and senior hardware engineering manager James Foster are also said to be key players in the iWatch project.
Succeeding iOS 7, a major redesign of the Apple mobile device experience, iOS 8 likely will not feature major interface or graphics changes. There will be minor enhancements across the system, but none that are as noticeable as the changes introduced last year.
iOS 8 is codenamed “Okemo,” a popular ski resort in Vermont, U.S. This codename continues a long tradition of Apple internally naming iOS releases after ski resorts (Mac OS X releases are instead named after wines).
Apple has been actively developing enhancements to its Maps app, such as transit directions and indoor mapping, but sources say that development of an in-house transit feature is not moving along as quickly as some company leaders have hoped, and the feature is far from a lock for iOS 8. Sources also add that mapping functionality will be a focal point for the iWatch.
By leveraging the existing iPhone user base, Apple’s plans for a health and fitness-focused version of iOS and the potential of an advanced, sensor-packed wearable computer could allow it to re-invent yet another critical industry.