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What Do iOS 8, iPhone 6/6 Plus and Apple Watch Mean to Healthcare?

Brian Corn

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On September 17, 2014, Apple released iOS 8, the latest full version of their mobile operating system. There’s been quite a lot of buzz around the hardware companions of the release (the iPhone® 6/6 Plus, available on September 19, and the Apple Watch, available next year), as well as the mHealth-enabling Apple HealthKit framework accompanying it. The intent of this POV is to provide an overview of these releases (both software and hardware) with a focus on areas of particular significance to healthcare marketing and personal health and wellness tracking.


Apple HealthKit is the software framework within iOS 8 that enables the aggregation of health data on an iPhone (5 or better). HealthKit enables third-party apps and devices to store health data within the HealthKit local database while allowing users to tightly control which apps access which types of data.

HealthKit provides a few features of particular interest to the health and wellness industry. First, it requires a user to specifically authorize apps to access certain types of data, thereby giving it inherent data privacy. HealthKit also enables passive data collection, which is key to the concept of the quantified self because health data is more reliably tracked when patients aren’t required to physically input data.

The Health App keeps track of health and fitness data and provides a dashboard to easily access this information. Much like the underlying HealthKit framework, Health allows the user fine-grained control over the types of data to be shared with other apps.

The implications of the Health app to healthcare are similar to those provided by HealthKit. The ability of a newer iPhone (5S or better) to use Touch ID also provides an additional layer of security to safeguard health data.

Notifications in iOS 8 are now much more interactive. Users can respond to them without leaving the currently active app by simply pulling down the notification as an overlay, responding appropriately (e.g., reply to a text, delete an email, etc.), and then returning to the app. This feature helps eliminate some of the app switching (and derailment of train of thought) associated with typical notification responses.

The implications of these notification changes to healthcare are really tied to ease of use. Native health-related apps that require user focus to collect information will no longer face the interruptions and distractions of iOS notifications. This should lead to better overall use and compliance with these apps.

iOS 8 provides developers with the ability to define custom keyboards and keyboard layouts that can be used in place of the standard iOS keyboard.

The implications of this seemingly subtle enhancement to healthcare tracking and marketing could be significant. Imagine an iPhone app built to help patients suffering from a condition that affects their vision or finger dexterity, either of which can make interacting with a standard iOS keyboard challenging. The new custom keyboard feature would allow a developer to provide a unique typing experience for these individuals, effectively improving the usability of the keyboard and giving back a little control to these patients.


Apple will release two new versions of the iPhone on September 19: the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, both larger than the most recent iPhone 5s/c, coming in at 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, respectively, compared to 4 inches previously. Most of the features are simply improvements over the iPhone 5s/c in terms of performance or size.

Some of these improvements impact patients by making the devices easier to use. For example, the Retina HD display of these new phones could help patients with vision impairments by providing greater contrast and improved outdoor visibility. The optic image stabilization of the iPhone 6 Plus camera helps compensate for patients with tremors or chorea.


The Apple Watch represents their first official foray into the wearables space. It has already been praised by the fashion aficionados for its visual design merits, but the real value of the device is not what it looks like, but what it can provide from a health and wellness tracking perspective. As the Apple Watch requires an iPhone running iOS 8 to function, it follows that it has been functionally designed to complement this healthcare-focused mobile OS.

Along with a number of general apps, the Apple Watch will come pre-loaded with two healthcare-focused apps: Fitness and Workout. These apps both track physical activity, but in different ways. Fitness measures movement throughout the day, dividing it into Standing (to a customizable goal, such as at least one minute for every hour), Exercise (a total of 30 minutes), and Movement (a customized caloric burn). Workout lets you choose specific types of workouts and goals for them. All of this information can be synced back to the iPhone and shared with other third-party apps as the user chooses.

The ramifications of these apps in our industry are clear. In particular, Fitness allows the passive tracking of physical activity that a patient could ultimately share with his physician to help track activity levels as part of the overall treatment data and plan for that patient. Workout might provide similar information, specific to workout types, which might include custom exercises such as those designed for an arthritis patient.

Apple WatchKit is the software framework installed on the Apple Watch. WatchKit will enable the development of apps specifically designed to run on the Apple Watch. Examples of current custom apps based upon WatchKit include an app that allows the user to unlock her hotel room by waving the watch in front of the room lock and an app that allows a car owner to find his parked car via a map displayed on the watch.

The value of WatchKit to personal health will ultimately be in its ability to gather various health information collected from the Apple Watch itself and save it to the paired iPhone (using its HealthKit functionality), effectively super-charging the mHealth experience for the user. In addition, given the various health-related sensors on the Apple Watch, WatchKit will have access to a variety of real-time health data that might be provided to the watch wearer — and their healthcare provider — in new and interesting ways.

The next few months will be critical for seeing how third parties leverage HealthKit and WatchKit to build the Apple healthcare ecosystem [and] how Apple … respond[s] to the brand demand.


In standard Apple release fashion, the announcement of iOS 8 ushered in companion hardware upgrades — and a new device class altogether — to accompany the updated OS. However, with this release, it is very apparent that Apple has thrown its significant hat into the mHealth ring, specifically with HealthKit and the timely Apple Watch.

The next months will be critical for seeing how third parties leverage HealthKit and WatchKit to build the Apple healthcare ecosystem, how Apple (and its competitors) respond to the brand demand, and ultimately how and if consumers will embrace the digitally connected personal health concept. The reality is that, as users acquire new iPhones and ultimately Apple Watches, these capabilities will be there whether they realize it or not. It will be up to us as digital marketers to take advantage of this first actualization of an end-to-end mHealth ecosystem to truly change their lives for the better.



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