Google is planning to launch a new health service called Google Fit to collect and aggregate data from popular fitness trackers and health-related apps, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans. It will launch the service at the Google I/O conference for developers, being held on June 25 and 26.
Such a service would mark a direct challenge to Apple AAPL -0.59%’s HealthKit framework, launched last week and rolling out with its new mobile platform iOS 8 this fall to aggregate data from wearable devices and apps. Last month Samsung also unveiled Sami, a biometric data platform that collects health information from devices and apps too.
Google Fit will aggregate data through open APIs, instruction sets that allow apps to share information, and will also announce partnerships with wearable device makers at its I/O conference, Forbes understands. One source with knowledge of Google’s plans said Google Fit would allow a wearable device that measures data like steps or heart rate to interface with Google’s cloud-based services, and become part of the Google Fit ecosystem. Google could not be reached for comment at the time of writing.
It’s unclear if Google Fit will be a service build into the next version of Android, or a standalone app that Android users will be able to download independently.
Google has kept much of what it will announce at I/O under wraps but it has scheduled several developer sessions where it could conceivably talk about Google Fit. There is a session on “wearable computing with Google” on Day 1, followed by “designing for wearables,” and then the broader “Android and cloud” session on Day 2.
Creating health platforms has been a laborious process for both Google and Apple, sources say. Among the complications: the concern over privacy and how best to process information as sensitive as health data, as well as how to provide valuable feedback without veering into the realm of FDA-regulated diagnosis.
Google has been in this field before with Google Health, which also acted as a health portal but was shut down in 2012.
“Google Health never took off because consumers actually don’t want to aggregate their data,” says Derek Newell, CEO of digital health care platform Jiff. “They haven’t wanted to. What they want is information. They want meaning, rewards and a feedback loop.”
Google may want its new health platform to tie in with Android Wear, a version of Google’s Android mobile operating system that’s built for smart watches and other wearable devices. This way, someone wearing two or three wearable devices that run on Android Wear could have disparately collected data like steps, heart rate and temperature, aggregated by Google Fit as a central collection point.
Large tech companies like Apple, Samsung and Google are looking into data collection as a next step in broadening their ecosystems — in particular, becoming a hub for the health data picked up by the myriad sensors we’ll probably be wearing on our bodies over the next few years.
Microsoft MSFT +1.65% is getting in the game later this year with its own smart watch that measures continuous heart rate, Forbes first reported earlier this month. It’s unclear if Microsoft will also launch a health-data platform too, though it already has HealthVault, a web-based platform launched in 2010 to store health and fitness information.
Last week Apple explained that HealthKit would be a framework that wearables and health apps could use to send data to a separate Apple app called Health. Users would be able to store data including steps, sleep and heart rate in the Health app, along with their medical history. Third-party apps could then ask for access to Health, as they already do for apps like Contacts or Photos.
Google’s Android has dominated smartphone till now and is expected to account for 80% of global smartphone market by the end of this year, while Apple will retain 14.8%. But Android faces some challenges here.
If the next version of Android comes out with a version of Google Fit, top vendor Samsung could simply re-engineer the open-source platform and replace Google Fit with its own health platform, Sami.
Samsung has long sought to find ways to lessen its dependence on Google’s software by heavily customizing Android for its Galaxy range of smartphones. More recently it cut Android out all together on the update to its smart watch, Gear, which runs on Tizen, and Gear Fit, which runs on Samsung’s own low-power operating system.
“There’s lots of little players, and no data standards,” says Newell. “[Apple and Samsung] are going to step in the middle of all that and facilitate the collection of that data and let developers develop on top of it.” Now it looks like Google will do the same.