A Look at the Health App in iOS 13

posted in: September 2019 | 0
A stethoscope and an iPhone

Photo by Image by StockSnap from Pixabay


A Look at the Health App in iOS 13

My husband and I started our “fertility journey”—as infertility nightmares are euphemistically called—just before the iPhone era began. Every morning, I took my temperature with a special pink thermometer, careful not to get out of bed or move enough to alter the reading. We noted that number on a pad of paper and later transferred it to a rumpled chart. Books full of fertility advice crowded the bedside table. None of us knew then how much the iPhone would simplify even these most intimate parts of our lives.

Today all iPhones ship with a built-in app, Health, that acts as a collection point for health data. And there’s a lot of that data—the use of health and fitness apps grew more than 330% between 2015 and 2017 according to Flurry Analytics. With the release of iOS 13 (due out in a few months, but available now in public beta), Health has grown beyond being just a weak database of health-related metrics. It’s now a tool that not only tracks more types of data—including the fertility indicators I once logged by hand—but also actively helps users manage and understand that information by offering insights into their health trends.

Your Health, at a Glance

The Health app serves as a dashboard for data you enter directly or—more likely—collect using compatible apps and health devices such as smart scales, smart insulin pens, and fitness trackers (including the Apple Watch). The first thing you see when you open iOS 13’s Health app is the new, information-packed Summary view. The Favorites section shows recent entries in categories you check often, like your exercise minute count. The Highlights section offers dynamic charts, with the app analyzing current and past data to provide a historical perspective on what’s going on. This is a quick way to get feedback, for instance, if you’ve been exercising less than usual or your blood sugar levels are trending upwards.

Health Summary in iOS 13

Tap any category in the Summary view to see highlights specific to it. The more data you have, the more insight this will give you. You can filter many charts interactively by hour, day, week, month, or year. In most cases, you’ll also find basic educational material, drawn from sources like the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health, to explain the category’s significance to your health.

Educational material in iOS 13 Health

If you’re looking for something in particular, tap Browse at the bottom of the window. Enter a term in the search field or explore the list of categories shown here.

Browse in iOS 13 Health

If exercise is your main concern, you’ll find additional tools in iOS 13’s updated Activity app. It will chart your progress with key activity metrics, such as your walk and run pace, comparing the previous 90 days with the last 365 days and offering personalized challenges and coaching if you start to trend down.

Tools for Tracking Menstruation and Fertility

When Apple’s Craig Federighi first introduced the Health app back in 2014, he billed it as a dashboard where you could “monitor all of your metrics you’re most interested in” no matter what app or health device they might come from. But the Health app lacked any way to track or record data about menstrual cycles, leaving out a sizeable portion of Apple’s customer base. (You know, women.) A year later, iOS 9’s Health app added basic reproductive health tools, but iOS 13 takes things to the next level, offering more visual charting and cycle statistics, as well as prediction and notification, which makes it much more useful on a daily basis.

Using past data as its guide—whether you’ve entered it into the Health app itself or into a third-party reproductive health app like Glow or Clue—Health now predicts the likely start of your next three cycles, making it easy to get an idea what the situation will be for upcoming pool parties and romantic vacations. By default, Health also warns you at 8 PM on the day before your period is predicted so you don’t walk out the door without supplies. Likewise, if you’re trying to conceive, Health can predict when you’re nearing your “fertile window”—in other words, the time when ovulation is expected—and notify you the night before.

Cycle tracking in iOS 13 Health

To make it easier to log menstruation as well as pre- and post-menstrual symptoms like sleep and appetite changes, Apple announced that watchOS 6 (likely to ship alongside iOS 13) would include a companion app, Cycle Tracking. It will let you see predictions and notifications on your wrist, too.

Is Apple in the fitness tracker vanguard with this? Not quite. Fitbit added menstrual cycle tracking in 2018 as did Garmin, earlier this year. (Of the three, only Garmin offers specific features for menopause symptom tracking—something many women deal with for years—though you can log hot flashes with Health.)

Tools to Protect Your Ears

The number of Americans with hearing loss doubled between 2000 and 2015, according to the Hearing Health Foundation, bringing the total affected to nearly 50 million. In most cases, noise-induced hearing losscaused by continuous exposure to loud sounds (rather than a sudden explosion) is preventable. That’s where the Health app’s new hearing tools come in.

Health now tracks headphone audio levels, noting if your exposure reaches dangerous levels. That means if you regularly crank up your tunes, you can check the app to see whether you’re putting your ears at risk. (To reduce an iPhone’s maximum volume, go to Settings > Music > Volume Limit and move the slider to the left.) Likewise, if you see your headphone volume level trending up in Health’s Highlights, it might be time to see your doctor about declining hearing. Proactive notifications that nudge you to make changes would make these tools even more useful.

Hearing in iOS 13 Health

If you have an Apple Watch running watchOS 6, it will work with the Health app to warn you about the sounds around you, too, whether they come from a concert or a construction site. If the decibels get dangerous, your watch taps you on the wrist and displays a warning; a notification also appears at the top of Health’s Summary view.

You can adjust the sensitivity in the Watch app on your iPhone depending on how careful you want to be with your ears. Reaching the preset maximum, 90 dB, wasn’t difficult with Ozzy Osbourne playing full blast on a HomePod. That was also about the level that Josh Centers found lawnmowing to be (see “3M WorkTunes Headphones Make Yardwork More Tolerable,” 12 April 2019).

Noise warning in watchOS 6

From Health Hub to Health Helper

When it comes to your health, knowledge is power. Making it easy to gather data, track symptoms, and draw basic conclusions about the state of your health makes it more likely you’ll arrive at the doctor’s office with the information you need to get good care. Or, even better, perhaps this data can help you change your habits and behavior so you don’t have to schedule that doctor’s appointment in the first place.

Whether it’s protecting your ears or alerting you that the time is ripe for baby-making, iOS 13’s Health app not only gathers more of our scattered health information but also helps us use it in practical and potentially profound ways. My daughter, now 11, will likely never be able to imagine otherwise.