Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has recently dominated headlines, with iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus shattering records with sales of 10 million units within the first three days.
Despite that explosive launch, Apple announced a disappointing setback with the launch of iOS 8 -- HealthKit, its eagerly anticipated unified platform for wearables, fitness apps, and personal health data, had been delayed due to a "bug." Apple announced that a software update would make "HealthKit apps available by the end of the month."
This delay shows how hard it can be to digitize the fragmented healthcare industry. Apple has made more progress toward that elusive goal than any tech company with high profile EHR, wearable, and mobile health partnerships. By comparison, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has taken an industry-straddling approach to healthcare, expanding into biotech, medical devices, and mobile health at the same time.
Therefore, let's take a moment to compare the two tech giants' aggressive expansions into the healthcare industry.
Apple's HealthKit is limited by regulations and market share limitations
Apple has secured major alliances to lay out HealthKit's foundations.
EHR companies Epic, Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN), and Athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN) will connect their patient records to HealthKit. Epic and Cerner account for more than three-fourths of all EHRs in America, according to KLAS Research. HealthKit synchronizes data from iOS fitness apps and wearables into the iOS 8 Health app, and integrates health data from Mayo Clinic. Apple believes that the Apple Watch, which will arrive next year, will synchronize an individual's biometric data to this vast network.
Apple envisions a future where a person's health data flows freely from an Apple Watch to an iPhone to a doctor's screen, putting everyone on the same page and eradicating medical errors and confusion. While that's a grand vision, there are two factors which could throttle HealthKit's growth.
First, HIPAA regulations, which are designed to protect patient records, will inevitably become a bottleneck which HealthKit apps and devices have to squeeze through to reach doctors. Security concerns, like those recently seen with iCloud (which Apple bans HealthKit data from) could prevent cautious users from logging their health data into the Health app.
Second, Apple's market share is the ultimate limit for HealthKit's market penetration. Apple controls 42% of the U.S. smartphone market, according to comScore, which makes it the ideal starting point for its healthcare efforts. But Apple only controls 12% of the global market, compared to 85% for Google Android, according to IDC -- indicating that Apple's efforts to digitize the health care industry will remain confined to less than half of the U.S. market.
Google focuses on longer-term goals
In comparison to Apple's focused strategy, Google's healthcare efforts are focused on longer-term goals.
Back in 2008, Google tried to create a unified personal health record for individuals, known as Google Health, by forging partnerships with EHR companies. However, Google shut down Health four years later due to a lack of participation from doctors and privacy concerns. Since then, Google hasn't tried to unify EHRs, as Apple is now doing with HealthKit.
Instead, Google is aiming much higher. Last September, it launched Calico, a biotech subsidiary focused on age-related diseases. Earlier this month, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) signed a research partnership worth up to $1.5 billion with Calico to develop new drugs. Earlier this year, Google unveiled a smart contact lens which detects blood glucose levels through tears, which Novartis (NYSE:NVS) licensed in July. That same month, Google launched Project Baseline, an anonymized genetic database to identify biomarkers related to common diseases.
In hospitals, Google Glass is gaining momentum as a hands-free device for doctors. Several hospitals have started using Glass to streamline everyday routines, while smaller companies like Augmedix and Drchrono are streaming EHRs to Glass' heads-up display. In the consumer-facing market, Google has launched Android Wear, a scaled down version of Android for smartwatches, and will soon launch Google Fit, a unified dashboard for Android fitness apps and wearables.
The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, Google's efforts are different from Apple's because they are focused on the future, rather than the present.
Calico and Project Baseline probably won't generate revenue over the next few years, but if Calico eventually launches a blockbuster drug, or Baseline becomes the "Google Search of DNA" for hospitals and life science companies, they could help Google straddle the tech and biotech industries -- something that Apple could only dream of doing.
Apple's HealthKit is a fascinating platform, but investors should realize that it faces a lot of questions regarding privacy, security, and public acceptance before it can realize the company's dream of tethering patients and doctors to the cloud with iOS devices.