The move is intriguing because, unlike Apple and Samsung, Google has a history in the health data sector. That history is negative.
Google's previous service was a personal health record called “Google Health,” also designed as a data repository. It was, apparently, beautifully designed: John Moore, the founding partner of health information technology analyst firm Chilmark Research, wrote in a blog-post elegy for Google Health that it had “easy navigation, [with] uncluttered screen, simple to understand, simple to use.”
But, Moore wrote, the product was hurt by a “revolving door” of talent on the executive and engineering fronts, and no desire to “fully connect to the healthcare community, the doctors, the hospitals, etc.,” who were, after all, “the ones holding the data.”
Google Health's ultimate problem, however, seemed to be a lack of consumer interest. Moore argued that “Few consumers are interested in a digital filing cabinet for their records. What they are interested in is what that data can do for them.”
Moore concluded: “Can it help them better manage their health and/or the health of a loved one? Will it help them make appointments? Will it save them money on their health insurance bill, their next doctor visit? Can it help them automatically get a prescription refill? These are the basics that the vast majority of consumers want addressed first and Google Health was unable to deliver on any of these,” Moore concluded.
Google itself confirmed the theory that the product expired due to lack of interest. In a corporate blog post announcing the discontinuation of Google Health, the company wrote that although “there has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts … we haven't found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.”
So what's changed now? The critique that only a small slice of the population is interested in tracking its health data closely is common—it's been made about biosensing wearables as well. For Google, perhaps the biggest difference is the ease of interfacing health data with a smartphone, rather than a computer. But since Google destroyed all the data in the Google Health service on Jan. 1, 2013—its official “death date”—it's unknown what has changed in the year and a half since.
Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir