Tuesday, June 3, 2014

iOS, HealthKit, Hype and FHIR

Apple now enters into the Health Platform API fray with something called HealthKit, after Google has left the field, and Microsoft simply carries on with its Health Vault platform.  This isn't really really new news, so much as confirmation of what we've been hearing for a little while about Apple's entry into the Health and Quantified Self space.  As someone who has more than 5 QS/Health apps on his phone and iPad which DO NOT work together at all, I appreciate that the iOS platform will soon have these capabilities built in.  And I can also see that vendors developing these applications will have to rather quickly start working with the new APIs.

But what does this mean with respect to standards like HL7's FHIR.  Apple's not a big participant in standards activities. Apple developers have somewhat been locked in to Objective C for development, although Apple now announces a "new" programming language called Swift (which for all intents and purposes looks like what JavaScript would if you started from Objective C and seems to have no real additional value other than to have an Apple-branded scripting language for IOS).

Looking at the basic descriptions of what Apple has in store for us at the moment, it seems as if Apple's definition of a Health API isn't all that much more than what HL7 FHIR already has with regard to definition for various Health related resources.  I expect some enterprising FHIR developers will be building bridges between the new Apple Health APIs and FHIR.  We've already seen some development of FHIR in Objective-C, and I expect that the Apple announcement of HealthKit will encourage others to explore bridging between it and HL7's FHIR specification.  But don't expect Apple to start showing up at HL7 FHIR Connectathons, or participating in FHIR development.

Just as I expect Microsoft will be doing similar things with Health Vault at some point in the future.  But they won't be doing it right away according to at least one Microsoft employee. Even so, at least Microsoft shows up.

We'll just have to see how this all plays out.  I'm not really too worried about Apple's entry into the Health API space.  After all, the world doesn't live on iOS alone, there will be always be a need for a consensus standard Health API like FHIR that can work on any platform.



  1. Apple haven't said a lot about architecture yet, but I don't see the point of them looking at FHIR for the iOS side of things - the economics of that eco-system say that they should simply define it for themselves. Where FHIR is likely to be relevant is when they look to leverage the data in the social web context, and in back-end integration with the healthcare system.

    And I think you're wrong about Swift - it's much more than a scripting language. It positions with C#. The future will be very interesting.

  2. Syntactically, it positions more in my mind with JavaScript or VBScript, but like both of those languages, it can be compiled to machine code (or byte code). Apple though has certainly put a lot of effort into the platform environment, including debugger.

  3. To complicate the picture further, Google and Samsung are moving into this space. See this article from Forbes.

    What a mess...

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