Prediction: Android Health will look a lot like Google Now

Last week’s unveiling of HealthKit at Apple’s WWDC provoked a flurry of responses (including my own) about Apple’s strategy moving forward, and what mobile health on an iPhone will look like for the near future. This week’s question is: what does Google’s counter-move look like?

Here’s my prediction: the way Google does mobile health won’t resemble the Apple approach at all; instead, it’ll look a lot like Google Now.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure (or for some, the mildly creepy and/or paranoid feeling) of using this service yet, Google Now is a feature on Android that provides contextually-relevant information and suggestions based on where you are, what you’ve searched for recently, what’s in your calendar, and other bits of information concerning your day to day life. It’s as if you took Google’s giant web-crawling, machine learning apparatus and shrunk it down to a personal-sized model.

Here’s what’s currently sitting in my Google Now drawer on my phone:

A reminder (with directions) about an upcoming dinner tonight;

The current score of a Cleveland Indians baseball game (they’re losing, as is tradition);

Some website suggestions explaining specific legal language on patents that I had looked up definitions for earlier today;

Two tracking notices for items I ordered recently on Amazon;

A warning about upcoming rain (which has already started).

Although a lot of the items currently in Google Now resemble your typical push notification material (calendar events, sports scores and so forth), what makes Google Now quite cool is that it learns from your search history and daily activity what you’re interested in, and over time your suggestions become more and more relevant to what you actually care about. The more successful it is at predicting what you care about, the more likely you are to actually leave Google Now to enter some other app to engage with your notification- whether it’s Google Maps, Chrome, a sports app, or whatever. Google Now isn’t designed to hog all the attention- it’s a tool to direct you towards what is useful to you at any given moment, as efficiently as possible.

In contrast with Apple’s Health app, which aims to be one single consolidated UI for all of your health devices and apps to pipe into, Android Health would serve essentially the opposite function: identifying contextually relevant cues of specific bits of health info that are relevant to you right now, and then taking you directly to that information inside another App. It would be the complete antithesis of Apple Health, and wouldn’t look out of place at all next to Google Now other Android services.

If this came true, Apple and Google’s opposing approaches to Mobile Health would perfectly reflect their differing worldviews: Apple’s laser-like obsession with providing the ultimate, perfect, most beautiful and flawless product money can buy, versus Google’s boundlessly creative quest to gather, organize and understand all of the world’s information in order to tell you precisely what you’d like to know, when you’d like to know it. It also runs a nice parallel with what Benedict Evans (from a16z) articulates as a core difference between iOS and Android devices: for iOS, the centre of the universe is the phone, whereas the cloud is just dumb storage; for Android, the phone is just a piece of dumb glass, and the real magic happens in the cloud. Apple clearly wants the centre of your digital health world to be their Health App. They don’t even want you looking at anything else; they’d much rather keep you inside their manicured garden where everything is kept perfect. For Google, it may be the inverse: there might not be a ‘centre of your health world’. You might tracking 15 different metrics through 4 wearable devices via 10 different apps, but you’ll know precisely where and when to look for just what you need, and you’ll have a really easy way to get there.

I think Apple’s Health app looks great, and HealthKit could potentially lead to a great user experience (even if developers suffer). But I don’t think it’s truly innovative; it’s really just a nice looking skin. Something like Google Now for health, which actually helps you see and use your health data in a fundamentally more intelligent way, is really worth looking forward to.


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