Apple's HealthKit has yet to realize its potential, thanks to lackadaisical third-party support

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited June 2015
Apple's HealthKit, especially with the newly launched Apple Watch, is a fantastic way for apps and services to share health and fitness data openly with one another. Unfortunately, Apple's own Health app is still being held back by short-sighted decisions from some of the top fitness platforms, including my two favorites: RunKeeper and Fitbit.




Introduced last year with iOS 8, Apple's HealthKit tools and accompanying Health app presented an opportunity for third-party application and accessory makers to "play nice" with one another. Nearly a year after the unveiling of HealthKit, however, that dream remains unrealized.
Without full support for Apple's HealthKit tools, the relatively closed platforms for RunKeeper and Fitbit are harder to recommend.
The ongoing frustration with HealthKit is through no fault of Apple, who appears to have properly laid the groundwork for its partners. Instead, major fitness and health tracking companies simply do not take advantage of the tools given to them.

Presumably, this has happened because companies do not want to make it easy for their users to export data to competing platforms. They want to keep their customers "locked in."

Good luck with that.

As Apple continues to grow its own proprietary health and fitness ecosystem, instead of locking customers in, those third-party companies may soon find themselves locked out. And for a consumer who wants to keep using those fitness platforms, their inaction is both baffling and infuriating.

To explain this problem better, here's how the lack of HealthKit support has affected my health and fitness tracking activities.

Sticky platforms

Old habits die hard. Platforms and ecosystems, it seems, die harder.

I have hundreds of runs logged on RunKeeper, where my wife and I track each others' progress and often "like" each other's workouts.

I also have about a dozen friends on Fitbit, where we can compare each others' daily and weekly step counts against one another. This kind of friendly competition is fun, and it encourages us to be more active.




Those social elements, and that detailed personal activity history, make it difficult to walk away from those platforms. True, since receiving my Apple Watch, I have stopped using all Fitbit hardware to track my steps. But that doesn't mean my friends have.

Fitbit, however, refuses to support Apple's HealthKit -- frankly, a myopic decision. That means steps tracked by my Apple Watch, in the event that I don't have my iPhone on me to use Fitbit's MobileTrack feature, do not show up in my Fitbit account.

If I run without my phone, or even go to check the mail, the steps aren't logged.

Apple Watch run tracking: Better than expected, bad news for RunKeeper

My situation with RunKeeper, however, is a little more complex than Fitbit. The truth is, I just don't like running with my iPhone 6 --?it's too big and bulky and inconvenient when strapped to my arm.

The Apple Watch lacks GPS on its own, so I presumed its ability to track runs would be subpar. I own a Microsoft Band, which has integrated GPS and even directly exports my runs to RunKeeper, so before I received my Apple Watch, I rather ridiculously imagined myself running with both an Apple Watch on one wrist and a Microsoft Band on the other.




But without my phone to assist it, the Microsoft Band sometimes takes 20-plus minutes to get a GPS lock, which is astonishingly even more ridiculous than me wearing two fitness bands at once.

And so I decided to put the Apple Watch to the test: After calibrating its step/run tracking capabilities with my iPhone's GPS, I ran iPhone-less with an Apple Watch and a Microsoft Band (after a lengthy delay to find GPS), and I compared the two.

After a 2.5-mile run, the two devices were off from one another by just 0.02 mile --?yes, two-hundredths of a mile. A negligible amount by anyone's standards.

In another test, I used Apple Watch on a treadmill and ran two miles. When the treadmill hit the two-mile mark, my Apple Watch buzzed on my wrist, also notifying me that I had gone exactly two miles.

It turns out, the Apple Watch's run tracking capabilities are much better than I expected.

But the truth is, I don't want to leave RunKeeper. I have a long history of runs there, I like tracking my progress, and I like sharing those runs with my wife. Their service is great, and I've grown accustomed to the way the app works.




RunKeeper will export my runs to HealthKit. But rather foolishly, it does not yet automatically import Apple Watch workouts, which are tracked through the Activity app and saved to the Health app.

My runs, and accompanying heart rate, could be accessed by RunKeeper via HealthKit, but their app doesn't support it. This leaves me manually entering my run data from Health to RunKeeper, just to keep my run logs up to date within that app.

But I still like RunKeeper and Fitbit. I want to stay with RunKeeper and Fibit.

I could stay with both platforms quite easily, if they fully supported the capabilities of HealthKit. But they don't, and their foolish decisions force me to jump through some laughable hoops in order to stay connected.

There are solutions, but they're complicated

For now, Apple's Health app and the HealthKit platform do not offer the kind of tracking and social connectivity I've become accustomed to with Fitbit and RunKeeper. And so I'd like to continue using those two other platforms, in addition to my newfound appreciation for Apple's Activities app and the Apple Watch.

Given that HealthKit is open and RunKeeper does offer some level of HealthKit integration, and there are third-party apps that play nicely with Fitbit, I searched to see if anyone had figured out a solution to my problem.

That brought me to this Reddit post where user "sophrosyneipsa" found a frankly convoluted multi-app solution to sync data between the Apple Watch, RunKeeper, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and SleepCycle. And while their solution works, it's needlessly complex in a world where Apple's Health app is an openly available central repository for all health-related data in iOS.

The key bridge, for me, is a version of SyncSolver designed specifically to push data from the Apple Watch to the Fitbit platform. It's a $2 application called Sync Solver - Health to Fitbit that can take my step data from my Apple Watch, as saved in the Health app, and push it to my Fitbit account, so that my steps are accurately logged and shared with my friends.




I still haven't found a reliable way to push my runs from the Health app to RunKeeper, however. For now, I'm manually entering them into the RunKeeper app, and grumbling to myself every time I do.

How long am I willing to keep this up? At what point will I lose interest, or at one point will all of my friends abandon these isolated platforms? What's keeping any of us tied to Fitbit or RunKeeper if they don't play nicely with other apps and platforms?

I bought the Apple Watch fully intending to stay with both Fitbit and RunKeeper for their established platforms and social connectivity, but at the moment it's a chore.

The good news is HealthKit is open for all iOS developers, and new options, whether from Apple itself or third-party developers, are bound to appear. If and when they do, I'll be inclined to try them out and see if they fit with my fitness and health tracking needs. I'm less committed to RunKeeper and Fitbit's platforms than ever before, thanks to their own presumed stubbornness.

And if my friends and family jump ship to another fitness tracking service, I'll be likely to do the same -- especially if companies like Fitbit and RunKeeper don't evolve and embrace HealthKit fully.

A year after its announcement, HealthKit remains full of potential, a sign of great things to come in the worlds of connected devices and the "quantified self." Whether the established market leaders in fitness and health platforms want to be a part of that connected future is up to them, but time is running out.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40
    captain jcaptain j Posts: 313member
    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app
  • Reply 2 of 40
    genovellegenovelle Posts: 1,436member
    captain j wrote: »
    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app
    Keep in mind, both of these companies owe much of thier success to iOS and with Fitbit, Apple actually promoting thier product in commercials, online, and in thier stores. Many other fitness brands could never gain traction. Bite the hand the feeds you and you could eventually go hungry.
  • Reply 3 of 40
    thewhitefalconthewhitefalcon Posts: 4,453member
    captain j wrote: »
    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app

    When StupidBit expects Apple to rush-approve their app in five days when they have a crush of thousands of apps, that is not Apple's fault. Just FYI. :rolleyes:
  • Reply 4 of 40
    I don't know anyone who actually uses any type of fitness related app on their phone... let alone do fitness on a daily/weekly basis :/
  • Reply 5 of 40
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,512member
    I would assume that Fitbit like Apple would prefer to sell hardware rather than being relegated to a 3rd party software provider. I don't see much future for them if they can't do hardware.
  • Reply 6 of 40
    gtbuzzgtbuzz Posts: 129member
    Apple Watch & the Apple Health App will come around. Developers have had a year to get on board. My CVS still has old medical electronic devices and so does Walmart. Health App is a Sleeping Giant. The Medical Software Business is booming, but it is very fractured. Some of the electronic records of hospitals and MD's look like systems from hell - the information shared with the clients is gobbled, poorly formatted and there for a limited time. So far many of them have just bought into electronic systems to satisfy the government who has, incidentally, never solved a problem, but is excellent in creating ones.

    Apple will get the health record act together and Apple Health will be wonderful.
  • Reply 7 of 40
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,002member
    genovelle wrote: »
    captain j wrote: »
    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app
    Keep in mind, both of these companies owe much of thier success to iOS and with Fitbit, Apple actually promoting thier product in commercials, online, and in thier stores. Many other fitness brands could never gain traction. Bite the hand the feeds you and you could eventually go hungry.

    It's hypocritical to keep a tight rein on data sharing, but expect others to share their data.
  • Reply 8 of 40
    runbuhrunbuh Posts: 315member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    I would assume that Fitbit like Apple would prefer to sell hardware rather than being relegated to a 3rd party software provider. I don't see much future for them if they can't do hardware.

    No sarcasm: Doesn't Fitbit want the data (don't they sell it)?

    Yep: http://www.fitbit.com/privacy
  • Reply 9 of 40
    Sounds like you want their platform but want to go to apple watch for the hardware. Sort of like you are convoluting their business so you can jump ship on their business model. Yes/No?
  • Reply 10 of 40
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,002member
    runbuh wrote: »
    gatorguy wrote: »
    I would assume that Fitbit like Apple would prefer to sell hardware rather than being relegated to a 3rd party software provider. I don't see much future for them if they can't do hardware.

    No sarcasm: Doesn't Fitbit want the data (don't they sell it)?

    Yep: http://www.fitbit.com/privacy

    Did you misread?
    3. We will never sell your data, and will only share personally identifiable data when you direct us to.
  • Reply 11 of 40
    delayeddelayed Posts: 41member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by GTBuzz View Post

    So far many of them have just bought into electronic systems to satisfy the government who has, incidentally, never solved a problem, but is excellent in creating ones.

    Wow! Such amazing ignorance! Medicare/Medicaid work better than private insurance, and it's the government that's been stepping in when private insurance fails for the last 50 years. That whole get sick and end up bankrupt because you lose your insurance problem (which ends up falling on the tax payers) was caused by private insurance, not government. You should spend a lot less time watching Fox News.

  • Reply 12 of 40
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,586member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Captain J View Post



    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app



    This has nothing to do with Apple... HealthKit is a convenience feature for users, including FitBit users. Whether a company decides to make use of the feature doesn't affect Apple in the slightest. It's those users that will lose the ability to have all their data where they want it.

  • Reply 13 of 40
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,002member
    mjtomlin wrote: »
    captain j wrote: »
    Apple plays nice when it wants to but not so nice when these other players want their apps approved for iOS. No wonder they're not so eager to help Apple with its health app


    This has nothing to do with Apple... HealthKit is a convenience feature for users, including FitBit users. Whether a company decides to make use of the feature doesn't affect Apple in the slightest. It's those users that will lose the ability to have all their data where they want it.

    You're totally delusional if you believe that Health Kit doesn't benefit Apple greatly.
  • Reply 14 of 40
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    dasanman69 wrote: »
    Did you misread?

    you're conflating selling *your* PII (personally identifiable info) to others, with just selling you *as data* to others. Part of their business model is stripping your name and selling the health data:

    http://www.fitbit.com/privacy
    De-identified data that does not identify you may be used to inform the health community about trends; for marketing and promotional use; or for sale to interested audiences. See “Sharing of De-identified Data That Does Not Identify You” to learn more.
    ...
    Fitbit may share or sell aggregated, de-identified data that does not identify you, with partners and the public in a variety of ways, such as by providing research or reports about health and fitness or as part of our Premium membership.

    ...And that's why they don't use HK. lame.
  • Reply 15 of 40
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,512member
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    ...And that's why they don't use HK. lame.
    Does HealthKit integration allow the sharing of non-personally identifiable heath data by developers? I thought it did but could of course be mistaken.
  • Reply 16 of 40
    But even if the apps do work with health kit. The workouts you do with those apps will not contribute towards your exercise rings. Apple isn't letting third parties contribute to the rings so say I do a 7 minute workout in the "Seven" app. I'll have to also run the "other" workout on the watch to be credit the exercise minutes, which is infuriating considerings it's saying that I've burned ~23 calories as apposed to "seven" which estimates ~110 calories burned.
  • Reply 17 of 40
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,586member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by dasanman69 View Post





    You're totally delusional if you believe that Health Kit doesn't benefit Apple greatly.



    Nice. But the fact remains, that HealthKit, just as Apple Pay, HomeKit, etc., are user centric services and features that Apple does not directly gain from. Yes, they indirectly benefit from 3rd party support of their platform, but ultimately, it's the users that have the most to gain or lose from a company supporting a centralized feature.

  • Reply 18 of 40
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,002member
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    dasanman69 wrote: »
    Did you misread?

    you're conflating selling *your* PII (personally identifiable info) to others, with just selling you *as data* to others. Part of their business model is stripping your name and selling the health data:

    http://www.fitbit.com/privacy

    Apple just wants everyone to share it for free.
  • Reply 19 of 40
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,002member
    mjtomlin wrote: »
    dasanman69 wrote: »
    You're totally delusional if you believe that Health Kit doesn't benefit Apple greatly.


    Nice. But the fact remains, that HealthKit, just as Apple Pay, HomeKit, etc., are user centric services and features that Apple does not directly gain from. Yes, they indirectly benefit from 3rd party support of their platform, but ultimately, it's the users that have the most to gain or lose from a company supporting a centralized feature.

    Sure they benefit. With Apple Pay you have to buy the hardware plus they get a piece of every purchase. With HomeKit there will be hardware purchases plus licensing fees. Everything Apple does is to make themselves money.
  • Reply 20 of 40
    jcbigearsjcbigears Posts: 49member
    Hi all.
    I use Wahoo Fitness and I think it's ideal. It writes and reads more data than most of the other apps and also shares it with many other apps. I haven't found a downside yet to using it. Does anyone else here use it? Any other experiences with it?
    Thanks.
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