Latest iOS 8 beta shows Apple’s sensor sensibility

Apple continues work on iOS 8, but its latest developer release underlines the importance of new sensor technologies to its plans.


Keep making sensors

It is no secret that Apple is developing new sensors and health/fitness-related technologies designed to harness all kinds of biometric information from users.

Apple has invested heavily in recruiting a dream team of experts in the sensor and associated fields. Speaking at AllThingsD, Apple's Tim Cook said: "The whole sensor field is going to explode. It's a little all over the place right now. With the arc of time, it will become clearer."

Recent iOS 8 builds have included HealthKit-related frameworks for:

Apple's lung function

The headline HealthKit feature within the latest beta is support for Spirometry data. Spirometry tests diagnose lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To do such a test, you blow into a spirometer, suggesting new iOS-compatible accessories for medical use.

Inclusion of support for such data doesn't necessarily mean Apple's future devices will support cheap spirometer accessories, but certainly shows the company hopes its iOS products will be used by medical professionals -- presumably as a do-it-all device for most common medical tests.

The new beta adds the capacity to access key medical data such as allergies or blood type through the Lock screen. Sections for Diagnostics, Fitness, Lab Results, Medications, Nutrition, Sleep and Vital signs are also included in the app.

iOS 8 beta 5 HealthKit enhances support for workouts, galvanic skin response and electrodermal activity. However, support for some identifiers, such as heart rate readings, has been removed in this release.

[ABOVE: A recent Apple ad echoes a song used by President Kennedy when he tried to boost health in the early Sixties. The song was sent to every US school with a workout for the kids.]

Building a digital health ecosystem

When pondering Apple's HealthKit solution, you need to think outside the box a little -- inclusion of support for some of these features doesn't necessarily mean the iPhone will natively enable tests for lung function. Even so, the Wall Street Journal anticipates the iWatch will include 10 sensors, including a sweat sensor.

Instead, what it means is that Apple now offers a platform to support innovative solutions, such as the many listed here or new products, such as Vessyl. (Vessyl is a smart cup that recognizes whatever fluids are placed inside it and assesses calories, sugars and other pertinent information.) Such data can then be fed directly (via HealthKit) to any health apps you may regularly use.

The move to partnership is clearly reflected in Apple's recent 'Strength' ad that featured 12 digital health companies with health-related products:

The evidence shows that HealthKit isn't just an attempt to add hype to Apple's marketing efforts -- it's a powerful response to the fast-paced evolution of the digital health industry and the need for a private and secure ecosystem from which that industry can build (another platform advantage).

It also shows that Tim Cook's Apple is all about building strong platforms and strong partnerships -- it is not about throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.

Additional (non-health related) changes within iOS 8 beta 5 include:

  • The option to turn predictive text on and off
  • SMS Relay
  • Updated iCloud icons for Drive, Backup and Keychain
  • Photos shows a "Last Updated" notification so you know when images were last synced.
  • Photos users can download and store full-res images on iCloud while saving device-optimized images locally, freeing up storage.

(Tip: Apple tech support types should note that when Siri does not immediately recognise data changes you can trigger an update to its database by editing a contact file.)

Google+? If you use social media and happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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