Diabetes and the iPhone

People often ask me, “Why limit diabetes-related services to the iPhone when there are so many other cell phones out there?” I always answer them by asking, “How many applications have you downloaded onto your cell phone?” 

“None,” is usually the response. 

After all, how many times have you downloaded an application? Even with rapidly expanding online stores like Blackberry’s App World, Google’s Android Market, Nokia’s Ovi Store, and Palm’s App Catalog, the answer is still usually “none”-unless you have an iPhone.

The iPhone’s platform and its user demographic create the perfect mobile device for integration. So let’s talk about how we, as people with diabetes, have prospered from mobile integration and what we have to look forward to as the integration progresses.

The overall trend in the diabetes software market is that the big meter companies create software in order to keep up with the status quo. Software doesn’t increase test strip sales enough to put any real money into it. What that also means is that no one wants to rock the boat-if Abbott (FreeStyle) starts upping their software, then LifeScan (OneTouch) will do the same thing. Before long, everyone is spending money just to end up in the same status quo spot. 

This approach won’t work for the iPhone. Creating software suites that look like they were designed for Windows 3.1 just won’t cut it. Today, there are a lot of diabetes iPhone applications (apps) out there, none of which was created by a large meter manufacturer. Many of these apps do similar things – manually record blood glucose numbers, medication, food, and activity entries using an array of scroll wheels and dial pads. These apps range from free resources like Glucose Buddy to $11.99 for Diabetes Pilot (see comparison chart).

Response to these organizational tools has been enormously positive, and keep in mind that these are still manual entry tools…no true integration has been rolled out yet. Luckily, the big meter manufacturers are seeing the potential and starting to focus on software, which only means wonderful things for people with diabetes like you and me. For instance, OneTouch presented a prototype of their OneTouch meter communicating with iPhone Software that looked very user-friendly and helpful.

LifeScan’s participation in the March 2009 Apple Keynote was the first example of a meter manufacturer comprehending the potential of mobile integration. (Or perhaps Apple was making them “get it.”) It has been well publicized that Apple approached LifeScan only weeks before and invited them to participate in the event. However, it’s important to recognize that both the meter integration and the respective iPhone software presented by OneTouch was only a prototype and is certainly not for sale.

In response to questions for more information, LifeScan would only say that the application is “still in development.” No one knows when it could reach consumer’s hands.

Other meter manufacturers are waking up to the possibilities, too. For instance, my company, MYLEstone Health (beta.glucosebuddy.com), is in development on a future feature for our app Glucose Buddy, based upon the ACCU-CHEK Testing in Pairs tool from Roche. This tool allows people to record their blood glucose values in a unique, structured way in order to help them think about how recurring events in their lifestyle may affect their blood sugar levels. Roche has recognized the importance of getting into the space, and even though Testing in Pairs is certainly not meter integration, it is a step in the right direction.

Most recently, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple continued to display their interest in applying medicine to their iPhone, again confirming that third-party hardware like glucose meters will be able to communicate with the iPhone, via Bluetooth. Meter integration is what people with diabetes want and, at this point, what they expect. In January of 2009, MYLEstone Health ran a survey and presented a mock-up picture.

The response we got back was amazing. Of the people with diabetes who were surveyed, 87 percent told us they would buy the plug-in (which featured test strip storage internally) for $50. This means that large companies can actually expand their revenue streams by charging for the meter, rather than trying to hook people with diabetes with a free meter in an attempt to rake in cash from test strip sales.

Unfortunately, the actual implementation of integrating a meter and the iPhone is a process filled with tribulations-mostly internal factors like budget reviews, business development, marketing, hiring of iPhone developers, legal counsel approval, and so on.  Everything moves very slowly at the large corporate level. Plus, external factors such as FDA regulations provide extreme liability for a company at this level.

The Future

With the growth of the smartphone, the emergence of large diabetes corporations, and the demand for innovation from people with diabetes, we will be seeing tremendous strides in this sector. Unfortunately, true medical innovation by major companies takes time. To shorten this time gap, large corporations should look for partnership and acquisition opportunities with small developers from within the App Store. The App Store presents the perfect arena for smaller innovators to create diabetes solutions and get these solutions out to people with diabetes much sooner than large corporations can. As big companies partner with smaller, more flexible companies, the mobile diabetes sector will continue to boom. Eventually, you will be able to control your insulin pump, your continuous glucose monitor, and your glucose readings all from your mobile phone.

Even if this isn’t readily available through your iPhone just yet because of liability issues, enough companies are seeing the potential of this market to make it happen in the near future.

Good things to come for the diabetes community!

Matthew Tendler left his background in finance at Merrill Lynch for something more meaningful and close to his heart. Formally trained in business management and entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Matthew designed and implemented financial strategies for ultra high net worth clients at Merrill Lynch. He is in charge of marketing and long-term strategies for MYLEstone Health. Matthew has had type 1 since 2003.

He writes:

At 25 years young, I know type 1 diabetes on a deeply personal level. I know what it feels like to prick myself 20 times per day. I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a 35 mg/dL reading. I laugh with friends about how much “stuff” I have in my bulging pockets, when all the while I’m frowning on the inside because of this disease that’s plaguing my pancreas. So, I set out to make a difference in the lives of people who know the same things that I know and deal with the same issues that I deal with everyday.

Steve Jobs once said about Apple’s product development initiatives, “We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too.”  

I know what I want, and I think other people with diabetes want the same thing.  With the partnership of Tom Xu, a leading health and fitness developer in the iPhone App store, we created the Glucose Buddy App and began collaborating with major players throughout the diabetes industry.

Through the iPhone, our company MYLEstone Health has changed the way over 50,000 people with diabetes take care of themselves-a feat we are definitely proud of.  But there’s a long way to go. Our total vision is to integrate “everything diabetes” with your smartphone. This starts with basic manual entry within an iPhone app, which then pushes that data to your desktop-a process available on Glucose Buddy. But it’s not only entry logging software…our partnerships within the diabetes sector will help Glucose Buddy have education and entertainment features, such as dLife TV and Testing in Pairs by ACCU-CHEK, all in one place. Imagine a glucose meter attachment that is hooked into your phone, which stores your glucose numbers, lets you participate in education programs, and watch dLife TV, and even allows your doctors to sync in. That’s the goal.

This means no more jokes about bulging pockets. And it also means accessible help in reaching lower A1c’s and consistent numbers. Actually, not just accessible-in the palm of your hand.

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