Google To Introduce Health Data Platform At Google I/O

9-18-2013 10-03-06 PM

Google will unveil a new HealthKit-like fitness data platform at its annual Google I/O conference next week, according to reports from Forbes. The new service will be called Google Fit, and will provide a service similar to what Apple has built in HealthKit, and what Samsung has done with its equivalent platform, SAMI.

Google Fit will consolidate health data from a variety of digital health devices, predominantly activity trackers, but also medical devices like glucometers and wireless blood pressure cuffs. The captured data will then be stored in a central cloud-based repository where it will be available via API calls to expand the amount of personal health data available to other apps.

Analysts are predicting that Google Fit will be introduced as an enhancement to its Google Wear OS. Google Wear is a hybrid Android platform designed to power smartwatches and other wearables. The platform was created to provide Android functionality within a variety of emerging wearable form factors, while maintaining integration points with the more robust Android smartphone OS.

By entering the digital health ecosystem, Google is solidifying a trend across consumer technology to engage with consumers around health goals. Samsung was first to embrace digital health, with its core S-health app and paired Samsung Gear Fit activity tracker. Apple followed suit with its HealthKit announcement, and its highly anticipated iWatch unveil tentatively set for this coming October. Its no surprise that Google is trailing in the health sector, as the data giant has been burned by its health efforts in the past.

In 2011, Google shut down its Google Health business. Google Health was a patient portal-like service that allowed users to aggregate health and wellness data and then share that data with providers. The decision to shut the service down was explained as such:

“…Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people. That’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to discontinue the Google Health service. “

As the only technology company within the Samsung, Apple, Google trifecta with relevant digital health experience, it will be interesting to see how Google explains the decision to reintroduce a health data aggregation service. Is this effort purely designed to keep up with Apple, for no sake other than to maintain an even foot? Or does Google actually think that consumers have fundamentally changed since 2011, and that there is now an active market for this service?

The news is certainly good for digital health in general. Between Apple, Google, and Samsung, there will likely be more money spent building out these health data ecosystems and engaging consumers around their health than ever before. If these companies can incorporate enough features into their new smartwatches to build up a significant user base, the way they did with both smartphones and tablets, it would user in a new era of engaged and plugged in consumers for digital health startups to cater toward, and may result in tangible improvements to care delivery.

That’s a big ‘if’ however, as Google knows all to well.

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