When Apple’s Health app & the underlying HealthKit framework were released almost two years ago, there was a lot of excitement about how that signaled a leap forward for mobile health. The fundamental innovation was that health data would be written in the same language, at least in HealthKit compatible apps & devices. And that data could be stored in a secure, central repository that other HealthKit compatible apps could call on for health data. Appropriately, the thought was that it would catalyze a leap forward in innovative new apps & devices thanks to the ability to readily gather & share health data.
With the iOS 9.3 Health app updates, there is a focus on third-party applications and improved metric reporting. It will direct users not only to weight-loss and workout apps, but also to sleep and other health-related categories. The Health App itself will feature built-in health metrics, syncing up with Apple’s popular Apple Watch for exercise data, including goals and the unique “Stand Data”, which shows how often users interrupt their sitting to get up and move around. These measures of health can also be shared with the third-party apps directly through the Health App.
In addition, the iOS update will also include a new night mode called NightShift, aimed at reducing the impact of nighttime use on circadian rhythm. Considerable concern has been raised regarding the role of sleep cycle disruption from mobile devices2. We recently covered NightShift in detail, but as a refresher it uses GPS location data to calculate the sunset time for a user’s current location, and then automatically adjust the phone’s display to a warmer tone of light, ideally helping cut back on the harsh blue glow of mobile devices in the evening. We talked a bit about why that matters recently.
This is not the first approach to a screen display that adjusts the lighting on a device based on sunset and sunrise patterns, as demonstrated by the popular desktop application flux and mobile app Twilight. Both try to cut down on the harsh blue light of electronic devices during evening hours, and replace it with a more natural, redder background. While simply avoiding mobile devices prior to sleeping may offer a better solution for limiting the impact of such devices on sleep cycles (as recommended in a BMJ study from last year), such additional options are intriguing and likely to be welcomed by users2.
We have covered Apple Health and the impressive array of applications in which it is being used, from driving the growth of do-it-all health management apps to integration with even the most closed EHRs on the market like Epic. It has also been used to facilitate medical research through integration with Apple’s ResearchKit. Given the immense popularity of iOS devices and the benefits they offer for health apps, these iOS 9.3 Health app updates will hopefully continue to encourage further development of mobile health applications and tools for both patients and clinicians.