HolidayBuyer's Guide

The complete guide to the iPhone's Health app

View and manage all your wellness data in one place with Health.

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I complete workouts in an app called 7 Minute Workout, but I also log activities in Argus. My steps get counted with my FitBit, and my heart rate gets tracked in Instant Heart Rate. My data is everywhere -- well it was -- until Health came along.

Health, an app designed by Apple and stocked on iOS 8, finally gives us a way to put data from all kinds of apps in one place.

You'll often see Health in the context calorie-counting and fitness activity-tracking, but the platform is designed to handle much more than that. With the right coaxing, it can help you get a grip on other areas of wellness, such as vitamin intake (for managing deficiencies, for example), blood glucose tracking, sleep, and even vitals like heart rate and blood pressure.

As more of us rely on apps and phone-synced devices to monitor our wellness, Apple wants its users to be able to make sense of the data. And, perhaps one day -- share that data with their physicians.

Build your dashboard

Health is an aggregator designed to collect data, not supply it. Most of the time, the metrics that appear on your dashboard will be based on data supplied by other apps.However, there are two exceptions: steps and flights climbed.

Track steps and flights climbed

Using the motion processor on the 5S, 6, or 6 Plus, Health can keep track of your steps without help from an external app or device, like a FitBit. Same goes for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, both of which can track flights climbed using the built-in barometer.

  • To track steps, go to the Health Data tab, then Fitness. Here, go to Flights Climbed and Steps, then enable Show on Dashboard. Those stats will now appear in your Dashboard.

Tracking other apps in Health
This is where the fun begins. In the Health app, check out the Sources tab. If you have Health-compatible apps installed, this is where you give them permission to display their data in Health.

To show data from health and fitness apps in your Health dashboard:

  1. Go to Sources, then the app, and enable write and read permissions. Take note of the permission type, like "Active Calories" or "Workouts."
  2. Head to the Health Data tab, and find the permission type you noted in the first step, like Active Calories. Within that category, enable Show on Dashboard.
  3. Anything tracked in those apps (like a workout in Zova), will now appear on your dashboard.

To find apps compatible with Health, head to the App Store, then go to the Health and Fitness category and look for the section titled Apps for Health.

Health's secret weapon

Where Health really shines is in its unique ability to allow apps to "talk" to each other. When you give permission to apps in the Sources tab, you will often see two categories: Write and Read. Writing allows Health to import data; Reading allows Health to export data.

With read permissions enabled, apps can retrieve information from fellow apps. Take this example: You use a FitBit Aria scale to track your weight, which is now being written to Health. You also do workouts in the 7 Minute Workout app, which you've set to write calorie burn data and read weight. With those options set, 7 Minute Workout is now accessing your logged weight to correctly calculate your calorie burn.

These scenarios are limitless, and will only become more useful as developers integrate their apps with Health. Apps like Argus have attempted to offer the same app-to-app interaction feature, but have not had the tools to make it succeed.

Set up your Medical ID

Should you ever find yourself in a medical emergency, your Medical ID can be used to determine your identity and access your medical history. Medical responders can open it from your lock screen by hitting Emergency, then Medical ID.

  • To set up your Medical ID, go to the tab in the Health app, then hit Edit. Be sure "Show when locked" is enabled, so that medical responders can view your info.

Where Health fails

This is just the beginning for Health, and it's clear that the app has a long way to go. Most disappointing is the fact that users can not export their data. For Health to be truly useful, users should be able to save their data into spreadsheets or export it into other apps.

Health could also be a little more helpful. Under Health Data > All, there are plenty of supported data types, but Apple does a poor job of showing users how that data can be obtained. Ideally, Apple should provide app recommendations as they become available.

Finally, it would be useful if Apple allowed users to lock the app with Touch ID.