The latest rumors say the Apple iWatch will be full of sensors for tracking health metrics. With a deep level of awareness about people's well-being, these new devices and platforms could revolutionize health care. But if iTunes purchases are any indication, it's likely that data will stay within Apple's walled garden. Will this make consumers uncomfortable enough that they get wise to the value of the open source movement?
Companies like Quant should hope so. Quant is an open source library that makes it easy to export data from all the different activity tracking devices. The hope is that peoples' fear of misappropriation will get them to value their data more than they currently do, pressuring device makers to build products that are more accessible.
"The single biggest challenge is inconsistently structured data from each of the providers," says Joshua Kelly, Quant's lead developer. "Everyone has implemented a slightly different format for each kind of data. Meshing these together can prove challenging."
What happens when consumers are generating their hyper-personal data? Who owns it? What happens to the data if the device company gets into financial trouble, shuts down, or just decides to try and sell it? Even the current crop of rather harmless activity trackers have raised privacy concerns. Mother Jones recently dug into the different privacy policies of some of the major players in the space such as Fitbit and Nike with somewhat troubling findings, and the Federal Trade Commission is holding a conference on the matter in May 2014.
"Do I sleep better after eating fewer carbs? How does running impact my mood versus lifting weights? I worry that we won’t even be able to ask these types of questions at all if the trend of closed APIs picks up."
The concern here is the aggregate impact if Apple does switch on health tracking features. In the recent holiday quarter, Apple sold more than 50 million iPhones and there are hundreds of millions of iOS devices already in the wild. If that many people started tracking their daily activity with a sensor-equipped iWatch and the rumored Healthbook app for iOS, the impact on health care in general would be colossal.
"Apple would be an incredible boon to the space if they can provide a hardware platform for others to build on," says Kelly. "I think everyone is still trying to figure out what the killer device or app will be, and if history is a guide, Apple could definitely be the one to do it."