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Watch out… why healthcare apps should be ‘watch-ready’

The launch of the Apple Watch in April 2015 was met by much fanfare and initially fêted by Apple fans. The Watch was developed to be well-suited for the healthcare sector, with built-in sensors that measure the heart rate, walking and running. Nearly a year later, and with the launch of Apple Watch 2 potentially on the radar for some time during 2016, many are questioning if the Apple Watch is little more than an expensive toy. Although Apple is cagey about sales figures, analysts suggest it is not living up to expectations. The monitor is relatively small, its interaction with apps is limited and it appears more a fashion accessory than a watch. However, that is not to say it does not have great potential – we think it does, particularly in healthcare.


After using it for a few months, you realize that with its direct connection to the iPhone and iTunes App Store the Watch is certainly a clever gadget, which increases mindfulness for health, fitness and activities. Data shows that 85% of Apple Watch owners say the device has contributed to their health and 27% say it has helped them to lose weight. Many health insurers now recognize these benefits by granting bonuses for wearing fitness trackers such as the Apple Watch.

Fitness and wellbeing is one thing – what about disease management? Certainly, Apple and a large number of app developers are continuing to produce new companion apps for Apple Watch, which means adapting existing apps to be “watch-ready”. Although there is one potential drawback here: Apps that were developed before the Apple Watch era are not automatically compatible, and so are not “watch enabled”. Any company or individual that has developed health-related apps prior to Smartwatches should consider whether it makes sense to make the app “watch-ready”, for example by analysis of its cost-effectiveness.

Providing Apple Watch compatibility makes a lot of sense for apps that are used by patients. It can increase the ease of use of “normal” apps and enhance the corporate image, because there is a growing expectation among users that their apps will function with the Watch. To coincide with the German market launch of the Apple Watch, our mobile experts made Biogen’s BeActive app for multiple sclerosis patients “Apple Watch-ready”, and designed to transfer data directly to the Apple Health App across an interface. By briefly glancing at the Watch, patients can check their personal activity index and are motivated by the app to remain active and so improve their quality of life. The data it collects are not only informative for the patients, but also useful for doctors – the pool of data contributes to a better assessment of the progress of the disease and prompts suggestions for subsequent therapies.

Another example is an app called “Time2Move”, which was developed for a pharmaceutical company involved in thrombosis treatments. This app was originally developed with the aim of generating the interest of experts at medical conventions –in a playful and informative manner. The app counts the steps the user takes and offers various incentives, such as reaching certain levels. It can measure this way, for example, how many steps each person has taken during a convention lasting several days. A constantly updated ranking of participants and a competition only available on the company’s congress stand, motivated participants to revisit the stand repeatedly.

This way the app worked perfectly as an instrument of customer loyalty while sending an appropriate message: “Keep moving, because movement is a good treatment for thrombosis”. The app also plays a major role during the annual “World Thrombosis Day”. Due to its success among medical experts, the app will shortly be officially published in Apple’s App Store.

“Time2Move” was developed with the Apple Watch in mind from the start; it is obviously much more cost-effective to do it this way rather than retrospectively make an app watch-ready. Use of a watch makes sense in this case, because it is easier than holding a smartphone for counting paces and it is possible to observe the result quickly and discretely on the watch’s display, again avoiding the necessity to withdraw the iPhone each time.

Presently our software experts are working on making suitable apps from the DocCheck portfolio also “watch-ready”, including apps like “DocCheck News”, “PulseCheck”, “MemoryCheck” and “TremorCheck”. All these apps are available in the App Store.

By the time the Watch 2 is launched and acceptability of Smartwatches has been further established, it is likely that there will be no further doubting whether or not an app should be prepared for the Smartwatches, particularly the Apple Watch. However, currently and in the coming months this will remain an issue. Here are the criteria to consider:

Five tips in summary

1. Ask whether it is worth developing

If your existing app, developed prior to the Smartwatch era, contains no features that are ideally suited to the Apple Watch or other Smartwatches, or the application simply cannot be viewed well on it, then it makes little sense investing in a conversion. It is better to invest in further developing your app for its present platform.

2. Check your target group

When developing a new app it makes a lot of sense to design it “watch-ready” from the outset, in order to appeal to your target group. It is likely many users of popular patient-oriented apps will want to use them on a Smartwatch. If an app does not function with a watch, it will be seen as outdated and rapidly phased out.

3. Target the most popular technology

Although this article primarily concerns the Apple Watch, there are of course other suppliers of Smartwatches such as Samsung and LG. The problem is that it is necessary to develop a special app for each kind of Smartwatch, which consequently increases the costs. Concentrate on the most widely distributed systems. Can you guess who the market leaders are? Apple Watch has a market share of around 75 % of the Smartwatch niche.

4. Apply your development budget in a future-proof way

Even when there is no obvious application for the watch, when developing a new app it is recommended to design it “watch-ready” from the beginning, because the extra effort is relatively minor. To convert an app at a later stage increases the costs of development disproportionately.

5. Generate ideas specifically for Smartwatches

The Smartwatch market is still developing and the dynamics are immense. If you intend to develop a new app, directly integrate suitable watch ideas as you develop it. The most fun in using a Smartwatch is derived from applications that were specifically designed for it. Your target groups will thank you for it.

Thilo Kölzer

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