WebMD Takes on Apple and Samsung With Its Own Health Hub

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has a competitor for its new HealthKit platform and Health App: WebMD (NASDAQ:WBMD), which today announced a new feature in its iOS app called Healthy Target. The in-app feature allows users to pick a goal like “Lose Weight,” “Eat Healthier,” “Be More Active,” or “Control Blood Sugar,” and track their progress by inputting information and connecting wearable devices. WebMD also says that activity trackers, such as FitBit and Jawbone, plus glucometers and wireless scales, are compatible with Healthy Target.

The announcement follows Apple’s recent introduction of the HealthKit platform and data-collecting Health app, which enables users to collect data like glucose levels, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure, and send that information directly to a doctor or hospital — a capability that may prove to be the platform’s greatest asset. HealthKit, on the other hand, is a framework meant to underpin and unify the large number of health-related iOS apps on the App Store. Developers can integrate HealthKit into their apps, allowing users to store their data in the Health app and eliminating the need for custom tools for every app to handle all of that data.

TechCrunch reports that users will be able to choose exactly which data points they want apps to share with the Health app, and which types of information they don’t want those apps to see. That’s a smart move given the privacy concerns inherent in the handling of sensitive information like health data. The Health app will also interface with devices like bluetooth heart rate monitors and step trackers. Apple will also partner with the Mayo Clinic app and Epic Systems, one of the biggest repositories of electronic health records, to make Apple’s Health app a central hub for the collection of biometric and health data — though it has several other competitors on that front.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is expected to launch Google Fit to aggregate data from fitness trackers and health apps, as reported by Forbes. The platform is expected to be unveiled at the Google I/O conference for developers on June 25 and 26. Google Fit will allow apps to share information, and the company is expected to announce partnerships with companies making wearable devices that measure data like steps taken or heart rate.

It’s not clear yet whether Google Fit will be a standalone app or if it will be built into the next version of Android, but the platform is expected to pair with devices like smartwatches running Google’s Android Wear operating system. Google Fit could collect and aggregate the data tracked by several different devices.

Samsung’s (SSNLF.PK) SAMI platform can also track and sync health data from devices and apps. The BBC reported in May that the platform was revealed with the prototype of the Simband device, which can pair with other devices to collect data ranging from heart rate to hydration to glucose levels. SAMI will operate as a cloud-based data repository and interface with other apps to collect and share data, plus will run on open-source software. Samsung is thinking about how to present the data its platform aggregates to users, weighing the possibility of offering a simple, percentage-based “wellness score” calculated from the data collected.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has also made a bid for part of the health-tracking market, announcing its own smart watch to monitor health rate. It already launched the web-based HealthVault in 2010 to store health and fitness information, though it’s unclear if it will also launch its own health data platform.

As Mashable points out, the difference (so far) between WebMD’s Healthy Target and the other major apps and trackers is that while they all offer the ability to collect and track large amounts of data, such as how much the user slept or how far he walked, they don’t contextualize that data and tell the user what it means. Apple’s Health app especially focuses on collecting rather than explaining data. Part of the absence of that capability may be attributed to concern over veering into the territory of FDA diagnosis, but WebMD is up to the challenge and gives readers more than a simple readout of their aggregated data.

Healthy Target provides what WebMD calls “actionable insights” into what users need to do to reach a goal. The app can inform a user who doesn’t get enough sleep how that lack of sleep affects their heart rate and mood. The app will give suggestions on how to make changes and improve users’ lifestyle, and will also provide medical articles and a weekly report. That ability of the WebMD app may differentiate it from its competitors; after all, a portal called Google Health was shut down in 2012 because it didn’t do enough to leverage the data that it collected.

As Forbes suggests, successful health-tracking platforms will help users better manage their health and understand the data that their devices and apps will collect.Some of that capability might come from the type of health-related content that WebMD has built its brand on providing, but that won’t be a replacement for a doctor’s review of the data that wearable devices and health-tracking apps will be able to collect.

Apple’s HealthKit may create a new way for people to interface with doctors and the medical industry, but WebMD’s Healthy Target may add more value for users looking to monitor and improve their health and lifestyle on their own. To that end, the two platforms may end up playing different roles for users — but it’s also not likely that users will use two different health data hubs to look at the output of their wearable devices and health-tracking apps on a daily basis.

But Healthy Target may not be a cause of worry for Apple just yet. WebMD told Mashable that the company plans to work with Apple’s HealthKit, not against it — because as it sees things, “Apple’s goal is to visualize and bring all the data together — not to provide its own content.” Whether that proves to be true or not remains to be seen — but it’s clear that just aggregating data into one place, like a filing cabinet, isn’t enough to make an app or platform truly valuable.

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