During the last couple of months, my mum has had a stomach bug which has reduced her appetite, not serious but enough to lead to some weight loss. Following the great work we did on the PhysioDom project last year, I was aware that weight loss in seniors could have some pretty bad outcomes. Increased likelihood of strokes, falls, confusion and reduced muscle mass are all associated with weight loss. An elderly friend of mine also died after losing a considerable amount of weight over a period of months as a symptom from cancer. This has made me interested in the potential of monitoring weight regularly and analysing trends to avoid problems.

While the PhysioDom system is no longer being supported (the servers have been switched off), the body mass analyser scales work fine on their own. I thought it would be useful to give a set to my mum so she could track her weight, BMI, muscle mass etc. and view the data on her iPad. In theory, when she had weighed herself, the data would transfer to the iPad and show trends in nice graphs. When I used to have an iPhone, I had found this useful. Unfortunately, it stopped working when I switched to my Android Fairphone.

Not as easy as it looks…

The instructions showed that the scales would work with an iPad. WRONG – the Apple Health software which is now part of iOS is not in the iPad. I found some comments on the Apple support forum – they see it mainly as a tool for tracking activity and vital signs through things like the Apple Watch. A couple of people had raised the use case for people like my mum, who have an iPad with no iPhone and would rather look at data on a large screen. However, there was no news from Apple if they were going to work on this feature.

I then moved on to A&D, the scale manufacturers. The scales are manufactured in line with the Continua Health Alliance standards which are all about quality and interoperability so I thought that they would integrate with a number of apps. Unfortunately the A&D app on the app store was incompatible with this model – it would not connect up to transfer data.  However, it did work with my sister’s iPhone.

I did some more searching and found some third party fitness apps that might work. They aim to integrate a number of sensors and bring all the data together in one place.  Myfitnesspal and others seemed quite promising but could not connect up to the scales.

Eventually I found an app on a forum that appeared to connect up, but only when the iPad and scales were switched on together. I gave up – I couldn’t justify any more time researching.

How could AAL providers have made this easier?

  • Just because a device says it is interoperable doesn’t mean that it will work with your device – not many consumers are willing to write an app or hack the Bluetooth stack of their phone to get something to work.
  • Apple could put Apple Health app onto iPads, not just iPhones.
  • Provide a helpdesk support to people before they purchase the device.
  • A&D could have helped out by making it work with one of their apps. Indeed, it would be really helpful if their app for the iPhone actually transferred all of the data and visualised it clearly across different devices.

What this tells us about AAL and interoperability

  • Apple do not see a sufficient market for putting their health software on the iPad, even though it’s a popular device with elderly people. The AAL group are still not a big enough market on their own to justify investment.
  • At first glance it looked like it would work with Apple devices and the instructions say it is iPad compatible, it was only after research that I found it wouldn’t work. This is frustrating and is probably why people hold back from buying AAL devices.
  • The device manufacturers A&D do not seem that interested in developing apps to support their devices. Different apps are recommended, messages say they are out of date.  It feels like a lottery to get something that works.
  • The devil is in the detail.