Thursday, September 15, 2016

Diabetes data platforms need competition

I received the recent news of Diasend and Glooko merger with mixed feelings. My main concern is the openness of the joint platform. Will it be possible for other apps to use the data? Ultimately, will it be possible for people with diabetes to upload their data once to a safe location, and then use the apps and gadgets they choose to make sense of that data in a way that best supports their individual goals?

Diasend have discussed opening an API for third party applications and developers for some time now. I have assumed they just lacked resources to make it available (although they never explicitly stated they would make that API open for anyone). Glooko, on the other hand, have never made any promises regarding an API. They do refer to a platform, but that's a much more vague term.

In their take on the news, Tidepool state that they don't consider themselves competitors to Diasend and Glooko. In a way, I'm disappointed. Competition is one of the key driving forces of innovation. We definitely do need that in the diabetes data management market. We need companies, nonprofits, and independent developers competing, for instance with the following:

  • Who will be the first to build an open platform for all the data people with diabetes need to see together?
  • Who will be the first to release a truly universal uploader, supporting all the different hardware we use?
  • Who will create the best developer experience, attracting all the best apps to be connected with the platform?
  • Who will build the best architecture, combining security and privacy features while enabling easy sharing of data between stakeholders.
  • Who will build the best user experience, making it easy to use the above mentioned tools?

We've seen how Nightscout, the open source project lead by independent developers on their free time, has helped commercial vendors bring their products to the market faster. Having the technology out there both validates the need for it and puts pressure on the companies to introduce their own solutions in order to not miss the train. In the case of Nightscout, it also put pressure on the regulator to approve the new commercially available technology in an accelerated procedure.

We do need the same with the diabetes apps ecosystem, with the data management platforms. I do believe that once we see the first platform that really enables upload from the most used glucometers and insulin pumps, and makes that data available for all third party applications, we see a quantum leap of innovation. We see that data actually being used. Used in many ways we currently dream of, and also in ways we cannot yet even imagine. I see the lack of such a platform as the biggest bottleneck of innovation currently.

At Sensotrend, we've from the beginning seen our own offering as a service that runs on Personal Health Record (PHR) platforms. On generic PHRs like Apple's Health and Microsoft's HealthVault, but also on PHRs focused on diabetes. We would really like to see Glooko, Nightscout, and Tidepool becoming such platforms. And we'd like to see them competing on who's the first one!

Friday, September 2, 2016

So long, Sports Tracker

Last week, I had the privilege to attend to the Sports Tracker Innovation Night. The event was targeted to people like me, with a CTO role in startup companies, or something close to that. I went there with great expectations. Is this the moment they finally open their API?

The first time I asked Sports Tracker for an API to access some of the exercise data was at Slush 2013, almost three years ago. I could hear from the answer that many other people and companies had asked for that too, and plans are currently being made for making an API available. I’ve repeated the question occasionally since then, and the answer has always been that the API is being planned, designed, or even built.

During the event, it became somewhat evident that an API is not being built. The presentation I saw (there were several presentations running in parallel) was about digital transformation, but mainly presented ideas on how to market and sell more goods to consumers through digital sales channels. The current owner of the Sports Tracker app is Amer group, the owner of many great brands like Atomic, Patagonia, Salomon, Suunto, Wilson, etc. It’s understood that within the group there’s a lot of know-how on how to market and sell goods.

I’m writing this on my way home from the MyData2016 conference. In the conference, there were numerous presentations on how the society is changing, and many on how consumerism is changing, too. People of today don’t want to be sold to. They want to get personalised experiences matching their values, and they want to be involved in creating value on initiatives and activities that matter to them. I see this as a really welcome development, and really want to believe in it.

Almost all other sports and wellness apps have already understood and are embracing the API ecosystems. When you expose access to data through publicly available interfaces, you no longer need to worry about offering that personalized experience to each and every different user or user group. The data produced by a sports app may be a key ingredient in something more meaningful, like in an athlete learning to train better or a person with chronic illness being able to manage his condition better. But the sports app cannot produce all the value alone. Especially not to both the athlete, and the chronically ill, and the myriads of other people with different needs, life styles and preferences. On the other hand, the value of the data from that app increases exponentially, when combined with data from a nutrition diary, smart scale, and perhaps medical devices.

Today, building an API should not be a big task. The first step for a wellness app would be to integrate with HealthKIT and Google FIT. In case that’s inconvenient for some reason, the app most likely uses and API already, to communicate with a cloud server. Opening that API for third parties requires little more than an OAuth2 implementation, for which there are plenty of implementations available. Of course, there’s the added cost of documentation and support. To get around that, an alternative is to open the API to aggregators, such as Human API, Validic, W2E, or Wellmo. You can even get the aggregator really interested by making an exclusive offer. It would be more limiting to developers wanting to use the data, but at least there would be a way.

Among Sensotrend’s current users, and among the potential users we have interviewed, Sports Tracker seems to be a really popular application. This may be due to it’s long history, and due to Nokia being so dominant in the Finnish handset market at one point in time, and Sports Tracker being the most highly acclaimed sports app at that time, on that platform. We’ve gotten many requests to support Sports Tracker in our app. This far, we have asked those users to be patient, and wait until the API gets released or the app gets integrated to HealthKit and Google FIT.

From today on, we’re changing that message. It’s evident that an API is not coming in any foreseeable future. People who are interested in seeing their data in our service, or in any other service for that matter, should instead select Endomondo, Strava, Runkeeper, Moves, or almost any other app that gets the value of open APIs.

I’m a long time user of Sports Tracker myself, and changing to another app requires some effort. Just selecting the right one from the ones listed above needs some research. However, the longer I keep using Sports Tracker, the more I feel I’m being left out of opportunities to learn, and to use the data in meaningful ways. And the bigger the effort to transfer the data manually to another platform, if I ever choose to.

It’s supposed to be my data. I should be able to use it in the ways I want to.