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8 lessons Apple is learning from 8 mobile health apps

Jacqueline Emigh | Nov. 4, 2015
Open your phone and say Ahh.

Open your phone and say agh
Credit: Stephen Sauer for ITworld

There's an app for...what? Asthma? Epilepsy? Autism?

After first telling folks nearly six years ago that "there's an app for that," Apple is now working with big name university medical schools and development partners on apps for eight different maladies. Many thousands of iPhone users have already downloaded these apps from Apple's App Store. Meanwhile, Apple and its prestigious partners are learning valuable lessons about the types of features iPhone owners will happily use in the interests of getting healthier.

Apple and its university colleagues released the first set of these medical apps -- for asthma, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and heart disease -- in March of 2015, following on in mid-October with new apps for autism, epilepsy, and a potentially deadly form of skin cancer known as melanoma.

Built on ResearchKit

All of these apps are built on Apple's ResearchKit, an "open source development framework" that lets software developers create disorder-specific apps that work with the iPhone's HealthKit and hardware sensors aboard the phone.

In the Parkinson's disease app, known as mPower, patients can use the iPhone's sensors to take a series of interactive tests for measuring and tracking their memory, speech, motor, and gait/balance skills.

With the Autism & Beyond (A&B) app, parents use the iPhone's camera to shoot videos -- snapped with the kids held in their laps -- that can help with early screening for autism.

Autism & Beyond app 
Credit: Autism & Beyond

"Although ResearchKit is not without its limitations, Apple is to be commended. There's never been anything like ResearchKit before, and it has the potential to change existing ecospheres. Apple's ResearchKit partners are trailblazers, and you can be sure that they're getting back to Apple with some of the lessons they're learning,” said Pam Baker, an industry analyst and consultant, in an interview with ITworld.

Here are eight such lessons Apple and its research partners are learning from the eight apps.

Lesson One: Successful mHealth apps are ‘sticky’ and ‘engaging’

“Asthma Health needed to be as ‘sticky’ as other popular apps in order to generate the required amount of study data,” Corey Bridges, CEO of software development firm  ) LifeMap Solutions, said in a blog post on Apple’s ResearchKit site back in May.

“It’s one thing to get users to download your app, but for your app to succeed, you need users to return to the app the day after they install it, then after one week, one month, etc.,” Bridges told ITworld.


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