Thursday, October 28, 2021

The iPhone’s new Health app is the health app you’ve been waiting for

Thanks to Apple, the iPhone is still more than just a camera, a messenger and a computer. The company’s Health app may just be the new thing in health, under the upcoming iOS 15 software update.

My first thought when I found the Health app back in 2007: Sure, it lets you keep track of your diet, keep track of your exercise (or not), set an alarm clock, have reminders, see your medical history, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

That does all that. But now there’s something else.

It could be the big new way you use an iPhone to track health. The more you use it, the better.

Here’s how: When you set up your Health app, it pops up a little pop-up window that asks you to enter your Fitbit account information and your Google Account (more on those in a minute). Fitbit is an app that uses sensors in your watch to count your steps and even integrate with your calendar. Google, on the other hand, is mostly about sharing information about your health, like your medical condition and what music you want to stream. The idea is that by sharing that information, the two apps make it easy for you to keep track of what you’re doing.

Apple has the layperson’s advantage here. The app has two huge features — one is arguably the most important, another, more intriguing one — at its disposal, that most apps have access to but most people don’t: You can sync your data from the iPhone with other fitness apps. This can be done with any app that supports HIPAA rules, in which case you don’t have to know how your password is secured — just link your account and you’re done. (Let’s see that WP Cook’s 23andMe, another app that we use every day, gets that memo, Apple.)

With that information, you can see all of your data from your health-tracking apps. If you’re a Google Fit member, for example, you can look up your steps taken, heart rate, sleep and so on, and adjust all the numbers as necessary.

This can be an interesting way to say goodbye to the calorie counter and the sleep tracker, because it really does get you better at health tracking in its own way. If you notice your step count isn’t up to snuff and you start to get on a roll, you don’t need to count calories to make up for it. You can use the activity-tracking feature just as much as you can with a dieter or runner. Your number shows up the same way, to see whether you’re eating too much, whether you’re not exercising enough, whether you’re dying of boredom. But you can see your steps, so you don’t need to be diligent about counting calories. (You can see this in how fitness trackers can even recalculate a number if you hit your walk goal.)

If you’re new to apps that track your health, the trend at the moment is to go with an app that handles as much of the data-collection as possible and let you customize the rest. Type 1 Diabetes app, which is free, for example, prompts you with phone notifications if your blood sugar gets too high or too low — and if you don’t make it through without triggering the alarms, you get a standing reminder to take your pills. The suggested apps for healthy cooking, on the other hand, let you know what you need to cook before you need to make it. The problem with Health is that most of us, accustomed to relying on our phone to take our notes, track our memories, organize our maps, take photos, navigate, document our trash, usually just input text, say a lot and take little notes, don’t bring that smartphone to doctors’ appointments or run numerous errands. And at that point, your phone is not the right tool to handle all of that information.

What does the Health app do for you? As Apple’s chief executive officer, Tim Cook, argued with patients, “I want to have as many places that I can look on my phone to understand my health, to keep myself in check and to keep my doctor informed.” The Health app keeps track of everything with one purpose in mind — keep you in check.

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