- What is a mobile health application and how are health APIs used in it?
- What data can you track from health APIs?
- What apps can you build with this data?
- Google Fit vs. Samsung Health vs. Apple Health
The popularity of various fitness trackers and other wearables, and the vast amount of data they provide, inevitably lead to the creation of specialized platforms capable of dealing with all that data and suitable for powering new health informatics mobile apps. The industry giants such as Google, Samsung, and Apple have already presented their platforms with open application programming interfaces (APIs) for the development of health apps.
Today the market for mHealth apps is approximately $25.17 billion. According to Statista, the global mobile health or mHealth market is estimated to reach $189 billion in 2025. The fitness apps market doesn’t trail far behind – its size will likely grow by $1.68 billion from 2020 to 2024.
The drivers that have added momentum to the market are the growing access to mobile and digital technology, healthy lifestyle trends, the necessity to provide care for an aging population, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, which is escalating the demand for remote monitoring tools and services.
What is a mobile health application and how are health APIs used in it?
mHealth is the practice of monitoring and sharing health information using mobile technology including smartphones and health tracking apps. Health apps are apps that offer health-related services. These apps can be divided into two major categories – medical apps and fitness apps.
Medical apps include:
- Women's Health apps
- Personal Health Record Apps
- Medication Management Apps
- Chronic Disease Management Apps
- Diagnostic Apps
- Remote Monitoring Apps
Fitness apps include:
- Exercise and Weight Loss
- Diet and Nutrition
- Activity Tracking
What is an API?
An API is a set of functions that enable an application’s access to data and interaction with external software components, operating systems, or microservices. In other words, it is a part of the software that governs how software applications communicate with each other. It delivers a user response to a system and sends the system’s response back to a user. Healthcare APIs help healthcare software development companies access data faster while reducing duplication or security errors.
Today there are some standards in place for APIs that can be used for custom healthcare software development. For example, the FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standard defines medical data formats and data exchange via REST APIs.
The market already offers platforms that allow healthcare software development companies to build apps empowered by APIs that allow interoperability between systems and quickly deliver information to app users. For example, the Google Cloud Healthcare API provides industry-standard protocols and formats for data intake, storing, analyzing, and integrating healthcare data with cloud-based applications.
What data can you track from health APIs?
Modern smartphones and wearables are usually equipped with an accelerometer, GPS, and other mobile sensors that keep tabs on the baseline and standard activity. Metrics such as heart rate, sleep statistics, height, weight, the type of activity the user is participating in, active time including start and finish time of an activity, distance traveled, steps taken, elevation climbed and calories burned.
What apps can you build with this data?
According to Vladimir Tutov, a project manager at Archer software:
The lion’s share of the apps which can be built based on such open APIs is fitness apps that can connect to fitness trackers, smart scales, and other smart devices and wearables.
Advanced apps for distance training that can track heart rate, calories burned, and have goal-result comparison features seem very promising taking into account the current pandemic and social distancing requirements. There are a few apps designed for distance training, however, none of them track all of the other metrics.
Activity tracking apps that can balance a person’s activity (track activity types and give tips for a healthy balance of activities) also show major potential.
Health apps that track steps taken, calories burned, and sleep statistics can be useful both for primary care physicians and doctors dealing with mental illnesses as well.
Medical apps are based more on HealthKit than on fitness APIs and the potential of these types of the app is very high. Certified medical devices for remote monitoring, such as blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, pulse oximeters, sleep apnea monitors (PSG), neurological monitors, etc. are coming within reach of getting widespread use. With the Covid-19 pandemic marching on and current trends in health, APIs will be much in demand as they are certified for medical use. Thus, health-tracking platforms and open APIs available for the development of custom healthcare software solutions can be a handy tool for developers.
Today the underlying platforms offering open APIs for wearables in the market are Google Fit, Apple Health, and Samsung Health. Let’s dig a bit deeper and find out the pros and cons of these platforms.
Google Fit vs. Samsung Health vs. Apple Health
Google Fit is positioned as an open ecosystem: it lets developers upload health and wellness data to a central repository where users can access their data from different devices and apps. Initially, the platform was designed to be compatible with all possible devices.
Pros of Google Fit
Google Fit allows synchronization of data collected with any Android Wear wearable device. Your health and wellness app can store data from any wearable or sensor and access data created by other apps, and users can still access their data if they upgrade to a new device.
Since 2019, Google Fit has been available for iOS and it is possible to collect data from various devices, but while you can get data from other devices and read them on iPhone, you can’t get data from an iPhone and read it on another device.
Google Fit is focused on activity tracking apps to aggregate and visualize recorded data from third-party devices and apps and merge the data together.
Cons of Google Fit
Though the platform developers say that it is compatible with all devices, some trackers and their native apps do not sync perfectly with Google Fit. The problems are “floating” for different wearables. Another problem is data discrepancy when requesting data from Google Fit. When Archer Software’s development team worked on the Bicovery project, we saw data discrepancies. For example, Mi Fit and Google Fit showed different data on steps taken. This means at this stage the data is not exact, and it is not possible to use this platform for critical solutions.
Another problem is data sync with Apple and Huawei devices. Though the latter are not widely used in the US, Huawei devices and the Huawei HiHealth platform account for approximately 30% of all wearables and smart devices and have a large share in the Asia market.
Google Fit is more focused on activity tracking apps than on medical apps. Initially, health APIs were integrated together with fitness APIs, and not long ago these APIs were broken down into separate categories.
Samsung Health for Android enables sharing health data between Samsung Health running on Android phones and partner apps. It also enables partner apps to use Samsung Health's tracker feature through app creation with a software development kit (SDK). Also, Samsung Health's partner apps for Android can provide their users with additional services.
Pros of Samsung Health
As a ready-made set of tools for app developers, this platform is more advanced in terms of personal trackers. Its APIs allow tracking of metrics like water consumption, calorie expenditure, and they also have the ability to adjust the app for an individual user. It is compatible with smart weight scales, which allow a person to track weight changes, track a user’s food diary, and their body mass index (BMI).
Cons of Samsung Health
The greatest pro of the platform is at the same time its greatest con – Samsung’s APIs are very advanced but are intended mainly for Samsung devices.
Apple’s HealthKit provides a central repository for health and fitness data on iPhones and Apple Watches. With the user’s permission, apps communicate with the HealthKit store to access and share this data.
Pros of Apple’s HealthKit
The platform allows one to track multiple metrics, such as heart rate, calories burned, various activities and exercises, as well as set goals and check progress. Apple is especially good at data visualization. Another pro is the perfect synchronization of data collected with an Apple Watch with Apple HealthKit. Apple’s platform is more focused on a comprehensive picture of an individual’s health and makes health data available to individuals and institutions that provide care. Such an approach makes it more convenient for healthcare organizations.
Apple’s platform is more focused on the medical field. Fit APIs and Health APIs were designed separately from day one.
Cons of Apple’s HealthKit
It is designed exclusively for Apple devices. There are no unified APIs compatible with other devices. To get valid data, developers have to work with every single API individually.
|Google Fit||Samsung Health||Apple Health|
|Data types||Data types represent different kinds of health and wellness data, like activity times and types, calories burned, pedaling rate, wheel speed, distance covered, heart rate, height, weight, the power generated in a workout, steps taken, and elevation.||Data types represent different kinds of activities, rest, food intake, and healthcare metrics. Namely: daily step count trend, step count, exercise, floors climbed (activities); sleep and sleep stage (rest); nutrition, caffeine intake, water intake (food); body temperature, blood glucose, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, height, and weight.||Data types represent different kinds of activities and body measurements such as gender, sleep patterns, blood type, workout duration and intensity, body temperature, heart rate, blood alcohol level, blood glucose, diet and cycling activity, and steps taken.|
|Data tracking||Google platform is a kind of health app in its own right.||Samsung Health is an advanced platform designed to collect data from all Samsung devices.||Apple Health reports data collected from other health apps and wearables.|
|Compatibility with apps||Google Fit is integrated with over 75 different third-party fitness, nutrition, and sleeping apps and devices.||The Connected Services feature allows Samsung Health users to sync data with third-party apps and services such as Microsoft Health, Misfit, Fitbit, Jawbone, and Runkeeper.||Currently, most wearable technologies and third-party apps are now compatible with this platform.|
|Accessibility and security||Google Fit’s SDK, Samsung Health SDK, and Apple HealthKit are open to developers. Compatible apps can have access to health information at that permission level but must be set to control which apps can access one’s health details.|
|Wearable support||Android Wear automatically plugs into Google Fit. It also can integrate with Apple Health App.||Android Wear automatically plugs into the platform, yet it is designed to work with Samsung products.||Apple Watch supports only HealthKit.|
Healthcare APIs are a powerful tool that can help create the best health apps to improve treatment outcomes and healthier lifestyles while minimizing the incidence of chronic diseases. The use of these pre-designed API integration tools and features facilitates app development and allows you to save the project budget and speed up the timeline to get to the market. The choice of platform depends on the features of the future app and its intended compatibility with wearables and other smart devices. Get in touch with us at email@example.com to get more information about the use of healthcare APIs in your prospective app.