How Apple’s purchase of startup reveals health data strategy

The tech giant’s acquisition of Gliimpse is the latest evidence that it’s making a concerted play in healthcare space, analysts say.

Apple’s recent acquisition of health startup Gliimpse is the latest in a long series of strategic moves by the Cupertino, Calif.-based company to capture mindshare and market share in a healthcare industry increasingly reliant on data.

News of the tech giant’s purchase of Gliimpse—a personal health record aggregator—did not come from Apple, which does not comment on its acquisitions or the strategy behind them. Reports of the acquisition first surfaced in Fast Company, a business magazine that covers the technology industry. Apple and Gliimpse executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

However, technology analysts were quick to speculate on the company’s rationale for the buy in light of Apple’s recent forays into the healthcare market.

The collection of consumers’ health data and providing actionable insights is at the heart of the startup buy, they contend.

Founded in Silicon Valley in 2013, Gliimpse has been working toward creating a technology for collecting and archiving personalized medical information, and enabling consumers to share that information with healthcare providers in a bundled, secure product. In that light, analysts say Gliimpse seems like a natural fit for Apple—a smartphone powerhouse—with millions of iPhones sold in the U.S. providing a mobile platform for users to gather and share their health data.

“Looks like Apple is beefing up its health tech ambitions with the purchase of Gliimpse,” says Raj Prabhu, CEO and co-founder of Mercom Capital Group, a public relations, investor relations and market intelligence firm that follows emerging healthcare IT companies. “The acquisition could help Apple expand its HealthKit offering, which already aggregates personal health data from wearable technologies and other third-party sources and displays data as a dashboard.”

Prabhu notes that the 2014 launch of Apple’s HealthKit, which synchronizes data from various health and fitness apps to work as a central dashboard for users, has certain synergies with Gliimpse’s data collection and digital archive capabilities.

“With Gliimpse, Apple can now aggregate medical records—the missing piece—and other personal health data into the HealthKit, which could become a more complete central personal health data repository,” he adds. “Apple HealthKit already lets consumers share personal health data with a doctor similar to Gliimpse’s shareable medical records. The synergies could apply to ResearchKit and CareKit as well, allowing access to more health data. It is not just about who can amass the largest heath data sets, but who can become the platform of choice for developers to build applications on top of it.”

Last year, Apple released a new open source software framework intended to leverage millions of iPhones for medical research. ResearchKit is the platform for researchers to host mobile apps to collect information from users who wish to volunteer it.

In addition, Apple in 2015 also launched its smartwatch, designed as a “comprehensive health and fitness companion.” Since then, developers have been building apps that are native to the Apple Watch. Equipped with an accelerometer, a built-in heart rate sensor, GPS and Wi-Fi from iPhone, Apple Watch provides a comprehensive view of users’ physical activity and overall health, which could be integrated with Gliimpse’s personal health record aggregation competencies.

Prabhu also mentions that in 2017 Apple is rumored to be launching a stand-alone healthcare device designed to gather user health data such as heart rate, pulse, as well as blood sugar.

Harry Wang, senior research director for Parks Associates says that Apple is “known to be searching for the next $100 billion opportunity, and the gigantic healthcare industry is ripe for technology disruption.” He says that “Gliimpse’s technology may represent a missing piece in this ecosystem approach for Apple” in attempting to “turn health data into meaningful knowledge for both doctors and patients, who themselves may hold the key to revolutionizing care delivery.”

Wang adds that Parks Associates believes Apple is “taking a long-term view about the roles that the company can play in healthcare and learning where Apple’s technology and business models can fill market gaps or dramatically improve patient care.”

According to Wang, Apple’s efforts in “building HealthKit/ResearchKit/CareKit for its healthcare partners, the launch of Apple Watch with a strong focus on health/wellness features, along with this rumored acquisition of Gliimpse, reflect again its ecosystem approach when entering a new market.”

Executives of neither Apple nor Gliimpse were available for comment, although the deal was reportedly concluded earlier this year and confirmed on Monday by Fast Company. Nonetheless, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has not been shy about confirming that healthcare is an “enormous” opportunity for the tech behemoth.

“If you think about some of society’s biggest problems and challenges, one of the ones that we are really focused on is health,” Cook said earlier this year at a startup conference in Amsterdam. “And arguably, the healthcare system can be made much simpler, can have much better results, you can have patients that really feel like customers,...and have systems and applications that bring out the best in the medical professionals...I think the runway there is enormous.”

And, in an interview published earlier this month with Fast Company, he predicted that the healthcare market’s potential could dwarf the smartphone market that accounts for some 65 percent of Apple’s $234 billion in annual revenues.

Amir Kishon, CEO of Wellness Layers, a patient engagement digital health company, says the Apple acquisition of Gliimpse is not at all surprising.

“Stakeholders, investors and (also) tech giants recognize that healthcare is going through a major disruption by digital health solutions,” observes Kishon. “This is a huge business opportunity, and everybody wants to participate in this party.”

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