Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) is gearing up to launch Google Fit, a unifying app for Android-compatible health apps and personal-fitness devices, according to a recent Forbes report. Google Fit will reportedly offer similar features to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) HealthKit, which also serves as a single dashboard for iOS-compatible apps and devices. Google is expected to formally unveil the app at the Google I/O conference for developers on June 25 and 26.
Google Fit will face other major competitors besides Apple in the health-care arena. Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) has diversified its fitness efforts with the Simband design for modular wearable bands and its own Galaxy Gear smart watches. Microsoft has won over major health-care providers with the Surface Pro 3.
So, is Google Fit merely a knee-jerk reaction to these rival efforts, or could it triumph over them with superior features?
The benefits of Google Fit
Google's greatest advantage in the health-care field is Android's dominance of smartphones. At the end of April, Android held a 52.5% market share in U.S. smartphones compared to Apple's 41.4%, according to comScore.
Therefore, any company creating apps and fitness devices exclusive to iOS would be forfeiting more than half the smartphone market by avoiding Android. Nike's FuelBand, for example, has always been an iOS exclusive, but it only claimed 10% of the fitness bands market in 2013, according to NPD Group -- compared to 68% for FitBit Flex and 19% for Jawbone UP, which both support Android devices.
Google also intends to flood the market with Android-only wearable devices with its Android Wear initiative, which will offer a smartwatch-optimized version of Android for developers. Android Wear puts Google's voice search on the wrist, offers real-time speed and distance tracking, and also pulls notifications from various social networks.
Google Fit, Android Wear, and other Android devices could also complement Google Glass, which would ideally pull the accumulated information onto Glass' heads-up display. Last week, Drchrono, one of the first companies to launch a "native" iPad EHR app untethered to desktop systems, notably launched the first EHR app for Google Glass.
Therefore, just as Apple's long-rumored iWatch could be the missing piece of its health care puzzle, Google Glass could tie everything together for both consumers and medical professionals.
The drawbacks of Google Fit
Despite those formidable strengths, Google Fit will need to answer some pressing questions before it can compete against Apple's HealthKit.
First and foremost, Apple iOS devices are easier to develop and test products for, since their devices share identical hardware and software configurations across a single generation. Apps and devices developed for Android's more fragmented universe of devices generally require much more testing. As a result, an iMedical Apps study last July found that Android still trailed iOS in its total number of medical apps, even though it controlled a larger share of the smartphone market.
Meanwhile, Samsung -- the largest Android device maker with 27.7% of the U.S. smartphone market -- could likely turn against Google soon in the wearables market. Samsung recently replaced Android on the Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Gear 2 smart watches with its own open source OS, Tizen. It is also encouraging other hardware makers to license its Simband design to make customizable, non-Android fitness devices. To top that all off, Samsung has its own fitness dashboard, Samsung S Health, limiting the need for Google Fit on its devices.
Android's security as a health-care platform is also questionable. F-Secure recently reported that out of all the malware discovered during the first quarter of 2014, Android was targeted by 275 out of 277 "threat families" (malware-infected apps sharing a common code). iOS and Symbian were each only targeted by a single threat family.
This makes Android a weak platform for personal health records, since medical practices can be penalized or fined under current HIPAA regulations if they fail to protect patient records. Google already tried this once with Google Health, which was discontinued in 2011 due to lack of public knowledge, lack of third-party support, as well as privacy and security concerns.
The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, Google Fit is an interesting but imperfect retaliatory strike against Apple.
On one hand, Google certainly has the market share muscle to pull together a personal fitness tracking ecosystem of its own. But on the other hand, Android's fragmentation, questionable security for medical apps and devices, and its strained relationship with Samsung could all adversely impact its ability to execute a strategy as clear cut as Apple's HealthKit initiative.