One of the things that quickly became apparent when smartphones came onto the market was that their telephone capabilities weren't really their most exciting aspect. In fact essentially what you have with a smartphone is a powerful handheld computer. To get an idea of how powerful, when you compare (for instance) a Samsung Galaxy S2 to a very good laptop from 10 years ago, the phone has four times the ram (a gig compared to 128mb). Four times more processor power, in a fraction of the space.
It was hardly surprising then, that app stores have been phenomenally successful. With that much processing power to hand and with so much memory, it soon became apparent that like computers, phones would no longer be limited to proprietary applications, and the third party apps that are available range from quite basic stuff like alarm clocks or calculators right up to full-blown video games that really use the phone's capabilities to the max.
But what about health? While there's been a raft of useful stuff such as:
- running and fitness apps like the ones available from Nike+ and Garmin
- medical encyclopedias and symptom information apps
- healthy eating and weight loss apps
Plus loads more. However, as time goes on the apps that are available are bound to become more sophisticated and allow us to achieve more with them. And how that will develop in terms of the specifics is anyone's guess, but broadly speaking a lot of it will be to do with how the app integrates with behaviour.
In a recent article entitled The Weight-Loss App-ortunity on the AXA PPP healthcare website, there are some very interesting thoughts on the future of health apps in relation to weight loss. One of these is that successful weight loss apps will 'sync' with the mindset of the user - and food consumption will be logged as it's happening rather than afterwards. This, along with image recognition that will be able to help identify nutritional value, will help people gain better insight into their eating behaviour as it happens, rather than in isolation after the fact.
Alongside your house keys and your debit card, your phone is probably one of the things that you always have close to hand, and it's this closeness that makes phones ideal for personalised apps. There's no need to go off and find it the way you would if you needed a pen and paper, and of course with cloud info storage, there's less risk of losing important data.
Writing in The Next Web earlier this year, tech reporter Nick Summers looked at the future of health apps, pointing out the fact that apps currently exist in their own individual bubbles - which is fine for each area of health in isolation, but necessarily means that the bigger picture can't be assembled. Three possible solutions are put forward:
- open APIs, allowing more sharing of data
- one company comes along and makes an app that does everything
- an app comes along that can pull all the data together from other apps (although this would be related to the point about APIs)
The government has been consistent in is healthy eating message over the years - and with the population not getting any younger there's likely to be more strain on the health service as well as greater uptake of medical insurance.
The opportunity here will be for everyone - government, companies, the health service, and us as individuals - to take the healthy living message, apply it (with guidance and support from apps) and take note of the results.