News Column

Apple focuses on health and home as it unveils latest mobile software

June 3, 2014

Charles Arthur, Technology editor

Blood pressure a little high? Need the lights turned off in your home? There's an app for that. Or there soon could be after Apple unveiled the latest plans for its iPhone software yesterday at its developers' conference in San Francisco.

Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, heralded the software, which will gather and store health-related data and offer integrated control for "smart home" devices such as remote-controlled lightbulbs.

It will be released in the autumn and run on iPhones and iPads and is "something only Apple can do", Cook said.

He pointed to statistics which said that 130 million iPhone and iPad buyers in the past 12 months out of about 230m sold were new to Apple's platform.

The HealthKit and HomeKit software is part of a push by the California company to position its smartphone as the hub of people's digital lives, much as it did more than a decade ago when it launched its iTunes software for organising music files.

In a speech to thousands of software developers at the Worldwide Developers conference in San Francisco's Moscone West centre, neither Cook nor Craig Federighi, Apple's software chief, announced any new hardware for the health or smart home categories.

But Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at the research firm Kantar ComTech, suggested Apple was aiming to get developers to build apps for both sectors before making its own move into them. "Otherwise you get the Galaxy Gear effect where Samsung announced a $300 smartwatch but there weren't any apps for it, so people say: 'What's the use of that?'"

Federighi was at pains to emphasise that the health and smart home systems will not share user data without explicit permission, as it seeks to position itself as an alternative to the data-sharing approach used by Google, Facebook and other advertising-supported companies.

The $3bn (pounds 1.8bn) purchase of the Beats headphones and music company was not mentioned in the two-hour presentation, although Federighi did jokingly make a call to "a new Apple employee" - the Beats cofounder Dr Dre, who sent developers his best wishes.

With new smartphone buyers increasingly hard to find as the US and European markets become saturated, Apple is looking to attract users of Google's Android.

Cook put heavy emphasis on the success that the iPhone and iPad have had in China, saying that half of its customers there had switched from Android.

Announcing HealthKit, Federighi said that at present apps retain their data individually but do not interact or connect to make good use of it. "That information lives in silos," he said. "You can't get a single comprehensive picture."

The news follows arch-rival Samsung's announcement last week of a mobile health-data store called Sami (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions). Samsung plans to market Sami by hosting a developer challenge and setting up a $50m fund for digital health entrepreneurs.

The update to the iPhone and iPad software will be released in the autumn, Federighi said. Though Apple made no mention of new iPhones or iPads, those are expected to be shown off just before the software's release, to ship just after it.

Among the expected updates are an iPhone with a larger screen to attract users who might otherwise shift to the increasingly popular "phablet" models, and to win back those who have moved away from the iPhone because they prefer the larger screens available on Android.

The iPhone 5S has a 4in screen, measured diagonally, while the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 are 5in or more, and analyst data shows that such larger screens are increasingly popular.

Apple also showed off the new Handoff software for its desktops and laptops that will automatically connect to an iPhone, so that it will show the identity of a caller, and let users reply to SMSes directly from the screen. Handoff is part of its latest update to OS X, codenamed Yosemite, which will be available as a public beta so that any Mac user can apply to test it.


Apple's software chief Craig Federighi speaks at the developers' conference in California Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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