Health apps are growing in popularity as Americans are becoming more health-conscious. Thanks to the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, the internet, and the rise of calorie-tracking apps like My Fitness Pal and Lose It!, people are increasingly confronted with calorie and nutrition costs they seldom considered before. As a result, many people are making better food choices. Another factor is the gamification of workouts. Fitness tracking apps allow users to share their stats, challenge friends, or complete virtual runs from around the world, visualizing their progress in exciting and interesting ways. Further, popular fitness trackers and smartwatches have become fashionable statement pieces that also motivate users to get up, drink water, and think about their bodies.
This emphasis on wellness has led to the rise of innumerable health apps. These tools record all kinds of data — from calorie intake to steps walked and moods — and present it to users in fun, interactive graphs. This data can provide motivation to users, who can watch their progress over time and set up reminders to prioritize working out. They can even help users set up realistic goals, like reaching a healthy BMI or achieving a lower resting heart rate.
But finding the best health app for your needs can be overwhelming when there are so many options. So today we’ll consider two of the leaders in this market, Apple Health and Google Health. Both apps come from industry leaders known for great design and extensive data analysis capabilities, and best of all, both are completely free.
Apple Health — available from the iTunes App Store
The best way to describe Apple Health is that it’s a central hub for data from many sources. It pairs with most other health apps available in the iTunes store, allowing you to build out the health tracker you want by focusing on metrics that matter to you.
All information in Apple Health is sorted into one of four categories: activity, mindfulness, nutrition, and sleep. Within each category, the interface uses tabs, making it easy to quickly find the information you’re looking for. You can even select favorite data points that you want to prioritize, which is especially useful given the enormous amount of information the app stores, which could otherwise feel overwhelming.
Health offers all the standard information you’d find in most health apps, including heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned, but it adds more depth by allowing you to track metrics like cholesterol, blood glucose, and fertility as well. You can even integrate your health records into Apple Health, including lab results, immunizations, medications, and procedures. (This feature is currently restricted to participating institutions.)
One especially nice feature is the digital emergency medical ID card you can create, warning emergency responders of allergies or current medications, as well as other critical information.
Using this app with an Apple Watch will provide more detailed data, but you can use the app with your iPhone or pair it with a number of other popular fitness trackers like Garmin and Fitbit. However, it does not pair with Android devices.
Google Fit — available from the Google Play Store
Depending on what you’re looking for in a health app, Google Fit may be a huge relief or deeply disappointing. The interface is simple, with a home screen, profile screen, and journal screen. The home screen provides common daily metrics like steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, and weight. The journal screen logs workouts, and the profile screen contains basic personal information.
Working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Heart Association (AHA), Google developed two main metrics, Move Minutes and Heart Points. Move Minutes track all activity; exercising earns Move Minutes, but so does choosing to take the stairs or park further from the grocery store. Heart Points focus only on exercise and reward users with double Heart Points for more intense exercises like Zumba or jogging. While you can use a wearable or phone to automatically track exercise, you also have the option to enter exercise manually, allowing you to record things like weight lifting or rock climbing.
Google takes advantage of its many native apps to provide a lot of convenience for Google Fit users, integrating Google Search, Maps, and Assistant. Additionally, it works well with many of the same apps that can be used with Apple Health, including Lose It!, My Fitness Pal, Runkeeper, and Strava. It also allows users to set specific goals and provides feedback on goal progress through its coaching feature, just as Apple Health does.
Google Fit works with any smartphone, including iPhones, or any fitness tracker, including big players like Polar and Garmin. Since Google’s Wear OS powers many of these fitness trackers anyway, integration is pretty fluid.
It’s well-known that Google has been slowly but steadily working itself into the wearables and fitness tracking market as well as the healthcare industry. We actually wrote about this recently in our post “Fitness Trackers In 2020: The Impact Of Google Buying Fitbit.” It will be interesting to see if its recent acquisition of Fitbit will lead Google to overhaul its Fit app, or whether it will remain a simple but solid player in this field.
Health App Data: Who Can You Trust?
In our recent post about fitness trackers, we discussed growing privacy concerns over Google’s foray into health data collection. The Wall Street Journal’s 2019 discovery of Project Nightingale has only increased concerns many watchful critics already had, but of course, Google is not the only tech giant entering this market: Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are also partnering with hospitals and insurance companies, hoping to hit it big by remaking the dysfunctional American health care industry.
However, Google—perhaps because it has infiltrated our lives so completely, or because it was one of the first companies to collect so much data on users—tends to face more scrutiny and suspicion. This is not without cause, considering they have been fined for serious issues such as tracking minors without consent. On the other hand, despite a few data breaches, Google has a pretty strong record of protecting users’ data from theft.
Apple has a much better reputation for data privacy. Encryption has been a foundational element of their products from early on, and on multiple occasions, Apple has refused to break their encryption on their devices even for government agencies, most recently in the case of the Pensacola shooter. Apple has also baked privacy into its marketing, promoting itself as a much more ethical and reliable company than its competitors.
However, Apple has begun following in the steps of its rivals, which may open the door to similar privacy issues at some point. One example is its 2019 launch of “sign in with Apple,” a feature similar to the “sign in with Facebook” function that enabled the Cambridge Analytica jailbreak of users’ accounts. (Google also has a similar feature.) Admittedly, Apple has created extra protections, such as creating a randomized email for its users that can be deleted if the user decides to delete their account with an app or website, so it is clearly learning from its competitors’ failures.
But as Apple’s own data breach shows, no company is ever perfect at protecting data. Further, Apple’s health app relies heavily on third-party apps that it is not responsible for beyond vetting them in the iTunes marketplace (which, like Google, is not always perfect in its vetting). While Google also utilizes third-party apps, Fit is built around the Google ecosystem, making it somewhat more contained in terms of privacy (assuming you’re ok with trusting Google).
So…Which Is The Better Health App?
Like so many points of comparison between Apple and Android, the answer comes down to what individual users value. Users who are looking for a single health management app or who want lots of detailed metrics will be happier with Apple Health. It records more overall data and eliminates the need to move between multiple apps that measure different health variables. However, Google Fit does a better job of linking data to specific health outcomes, and it focuses on the most essential measures of health, simplifying things for the user. It is also more widely available, which is important considering that Android held 86.6% of the 2019 smartphone market. In the end, if you’re looking to improve your health, the best app is likely the one that matches your preferred device.