Apple’s Health App and its Data Silo

Apple’s Health app is one of the key apps in the company’s new strategy that’s built around the Apple Watch. Since the Apple Watch will record data such as your activity and heart rate, the Health app is the repository for this data. And you can also store lots of other data in the Health app: from blood glucose to weight; from calories consumed and expended to blood pressure; and much more. It can be the linchpin of an overall health and fitness program, as Federico Viticci showed so well in his MacStories article Life After Cancer: How the iPhone Helped Me Achieve a Healthier Lifestyle.

But the Health app is a data silo; you can put data into it, but you can’t get it out. This can be a problem for many users. I was contacted the other day with a question from someone who wanted to transfer their Health app data to another device. This is something that Apple doesn’t seem to have planned for, at least not yet. The data you enter and store on that device is stuck on your iPhone.

The Health app stores your data in an encrypted form; this is a good thing. Health data is very personal, and needs the highest level of security. But because of this security, it seems that Apple has locked down health data too much.

The only way to transfer this data from one device to another is to back up your iOS device (your health data is saved as part of a backup), then set up a device using your backup to restore all its data to that device. This isn’t at all practical. Let’s say you buy a new iPhone. You may not want to set up the device using a backup, but rather from scratch. If so, you cannot got any of you Health data back.

Share health dataAnd what about sharing that data? For now, there’s no way to do this. You can certainly share it with other apps, but you can’t send it to your doctor. Imagine that you’ve been spending a lot of time recording your blood glucose level, your blood pressure, or another metric, diligently adding it to the Health app, and your doctor asks you for the data. You have to reply that he can’t have it. (Or, you can take screenshots and send them to the doctor; this isn’t very practical.)

(As two commenters point out, you can export all of your Health data. Tap Health Data, then All, then tap the Share button. This collates your data into a not-very-usable XML file, which you can then send yourself by email. However, you cannot do much with this data, and you can’t export a single data set from it. In addition, you can’t import this data into the Health app on another device.)

Yet one of the key uses of the Health app, I assume, is to be able to share the data with medical professionals. The fact that you cannot do so is surprising. Just as the Health app has a poor visual design, it seems that it also lacks one of the key features it needs.

Ideally, your Health data should sync to iCloud. Once it’s on iCloud, it should be accessible to other devices, and even other apps, from the cloud. It should be accessible on other iOS devices (the Health app only shows up on an iPhone or iPod touch, not on an iPad). And you should be able to access that data from your web browser, and export it, in case you want to send it so a doctor, or enter it into a spreadsheet.

I imagine Apple has hesitated with this syncing because of privacy issues. But, for now, the Health app is a data silo: data is simply aggregated on one device, with no way of using it anywhere else.