Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has convinced plenty of companies that HealthKit -- its unifying platform for fitness apps, wearable devices, and electronic health records -- will be the next big thing in mobile health. By synchronizing all the data from various sources into a single Health app on iOS 8, Apple hopes to compile the most complete digital profile of a user's day-to-day health ever.
However, Fitbit, the top fitness band maker in the world, said earlier this month it does "not currently have plans to integrate with HealthKit." That was surprising, since all signs indicated that Fitbit -- which controls 69% of the global fitness bands market -- would be one of Apple's most valuable allies.
Apple previously showed a picture of a Fitbit during a HealthKit presentation. During an interview with MobiHealthNews, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka discussed Fitbit's potential uses with HealthKit in hospitals. Even Jawbone, Fitbit's top rival, discussed the possibilities of integrating its app with Fitbit's via HealthKit.
Shortly after Fitbit's statement, Re/code reported that Apple would drop Fitbit products from its retail stores. Whether this was in response to Fitbt's unwillingness to jump aboard the HealthKit bandwagon is unclear, but it certainly seems the companies are gearing up for battle. Therefore, let's look at why Fitbit isn't eager to join forces with Apple, and what its defiance could mean for the future of the tech giant's mobile health efforts.
Why Fitbit doesn't want to team up with Apple
Fitbit isn't eager to team up with Apple, because many popular apps -- including MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun, Walgreen's Balance Rewards, and Microsoft's HealthVault -- already pull data from its trackers. Fitbit's main app is a full-featured dashboard for tracking daily activity and connecting with friends.
In other words, the company has already constructed a mobile health ecosystem on its own, which would fall apart if HealthKit lures away those allies. Fitbit's app would also seem redundant if all of its health data appeared on Apple's Health app. If that happens, Fitbit could be reduced to a single fitness tracker without a mobile health ecosystem. Moreover, it would fragment its user base among iOS, Android, and Windows Phone users, since HealthKit only runs on iOS 8.
Apple's upcoming Apple Watch, which is due to arrive next year, is also a dangerous competitor. The $350 device will offer the same health tracking features as the Fitbit Flex, plus a heart rate monitor -- a critical next-generation feature that Fitbit's bands lack. Meanwhile, the cost for manufacturing a fitness band such as the Flex is plunging -- Xiaomi recently released its $13 Mi Band in China, which offers similar features to a $100 Fitbit Flex.
Faced with competition at both ends of the market, Fitbit needs to either launch more smartwatch-like trackers to compete against the Apple Watch or drop its price to counter the rise of cheaper fitness bands. Neither scenario suggests the company should join forces with Apple.
Apple doesn't have the upper hand... yet
Apple might be growing into an 800-pound gorilla in the mobile health market, but HealthKit is still a young and unproven system.
Apple needs support from wearables makers to get the ball rolling until it releases the Apple Watch. Unfortunately, with Fitbit refusing to play along, Apple loses a substantial part of the market. In terms of smartwatches, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) is currently the market leader, and it obviously doesn't have plans to synchronize the six watches it unveiled over the past year to iPhones or HealthKit. According to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Samsung controlled 43% of the U.S. smartwatch market in July, while Strategy Analytics estimated that it controlled 71% of the global market during the first quarter.
Apple hopes the Apple Watch will disrupt the wearables market in the same way the iPhone and iPad respectively did to the smartphone and tablet markets. Unfortunately, public opinion isn't on Apple's side. In a recent survey by Toluna QuickSurveys, 66% of Americans weren't interested in the Apple Watch, 14% were undecided, and only 33% would "definitely" or "probably" buy one. Meanwhile, an ON World survey found that only 8% of consumers were willing to pay over $299 for a health-tracking smartwatch -- an ominous sign for the $350 device.
This means that if the Apple Watch bombs, other companies could follow Fitbit's example and maintain their sovereignty in the iOS ecosystem with independent apps. Other fitness app makers, seeing how Fitbit still dominates the fitness band market, could then prioritize Fitbit integration over HealthKit integration.
The Foolish takeaway
Analysts love to highlight the huge growth potential of the wearables and mobile health market. ON World projects that smartwatch shipments will soar from 4 million in 2013 to 330 million in 2018. Grand View Research believes the entire mobile health market -- including apps and wearables -- will grow from $1.95 billion in 2012 to $49 billion by 2020.
If those forecasts are to be believed, then Apple's HealthKit could be well positioned to capitalize from that growth. But without support from wearables makers like Fitbit -- which might see the platform as oppressive instead of innovative -- the platform could face a lot of trouble realizing its full potential.
Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.