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Apple May Be Edging Out Google in Health Care Because of the iPhone

How Apple's advantage over Android helps it in the medical world.

The Verge

Apple is pushing deeper into the business of health. At its event this morning, the company unveiled its newest software in the field: CareKit, an open source tool for building apps that lets iPhone owners track their medical data and share it with doctors. Apple is starting with an app designed for Parkinson’s disease patients.

Google also wants in on the business of health. Medical issues and data have long been obsessions of co-founder Larry Page. His cohort, Sergey Brin, has a deeply personal interest in Parkinson’s — he has a genetic mutation associated with the disease. The pair, now Alphabet’s honchos, have incubated two companies built on the intersection of digital data and medicine.

And while Google’s efforts there — primarily with Verily, the medical research arm under Alphabet — are far more advanced scientifically, Apple has a considerable advantage in the race to seize the health-tracking market. It can turn every iPhone into a health-tracking device.

That seems to be Apple’s goal with its latest software product. It starts with convincing iPhone owners to share their bodily habits with their device (how many steps did I take today?) but would progress to turning the iPhone into an electronic medical research database — a potentially lucrative asset in the medical industry.

Google tried to exploit its search data for health before, with little success. Verily is exploring a number of different avenues for tying personal data to medical professionals and researchers — from clinical wearables to futuristic nanodiagnostic pills. These are all in very preliminary stages, dragged by the plodding pace of the tightly-regulated medical industry.

But there’s one avenue neither Verily nor Google are pursuing yet: Baking medical tracking into Android. For Verily, this is likely a matter of focus — the company is working on clinical research and advanced medical gadgets. It’s also a logistical challenge: Android, given its sprawling nature, cannot disseminate uniform mobile software the way Apple does. Google could build something like CareKit, but may have a difficult time convincing its hardware partners, already reticent about the number of pre-installed Google apps, to add more.

So that handicap could mean that Apple might more quickly organize health information than Google, whose mission is to organize the world’s information.

That said, there’s no guarantee that CareKit will get traction. Apple has overshot its health-care efforts in the past; original plans for health tracking in the Apple Watch were ditched. Last year’s ResearchKit, Apple’s first foray into medical industry software, has just 25 app partners — not an incredibly robust market.

Though it did just add a notable partner today: 23andMe, the genetics company funded by Google.

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