The smartphone, and more importantly the countless apps that can be downloaded onto them, have revolutionized how we do almost everything. How we work, play, communicate, get news, and manage our health.

It’s a system that has made the unthinkable possible. But how much longer can this arrangement work?

The phone/app setup is gradually becoming a victim of its own success. We are reaching a point where there are too many apps, and the apps themselves have a built-in limit on how they can fit into people’s lives.

Increasingly Complex Eco-System

It used to be so simple.

When computers -- first desktops then eventually laptops -- were people’s primary (usually only) internet connected device, everything flowed through them. For developers, this meant there were only a few variables to deal with. Just a couple operating systems they had to accommodate for, and they were done.

Of course, the choices were limited for users, but everything was fairly easy.

Then the smartphone was introduced, and it didn’t take long for it to replace the laptop as users’ primary hub. We run nearly everything through our phones, including managing external, internet connected devices.

While this has given consumers nearly endless choices, it has also made things immensely complicated. There are more devices than ever, different sizes, and different operating systems, making it hard for developers to create consistent, intuitive user experiences.

The End of Apps

Currently, apps are required to run, or at least manage, most internet connected devices. The Apple Watch, for all its innovation, cannot function without a corresponding app on an iPhone. The same is true of internet-connected medical devices, including the ones we are developing.

This places a natural limit on the usability of these devices. As human beings, we tend to take the path of least resistance, and continually opening an app to perform simple tasks requires extra steps that typically don’t fit into our lives.

That may be okay for something as intermittent as controlling a television or adjusting a home’s temperature. But monitoring, tracking, and improving our health is a 24/7 endeavor, and ease of use is more important than in any other area.

So it’s clear that apps can only take us so far in healthcare. So what’s next?

Current Limitations

The next step in personal healthcare technology, and broader personal technology, is an eco-system that allows devices to connect directly, without relying on apps as the conduit from one device to another.

This will be especially important as wearables, like the Apple Watch, replace smartphones as people’s personal hubs. Working together, wearables, phones and purpose-made healthcare devices (activity trackers, medication dispensers, etc.) will be more useful in helping people manage their health.

If they don’t have to take the extra steps of downloading, setting up, and continually using an app, the technology will work better for them.

In terms of technology, we’re not there yet. The antennas required for devices to connect on that level are simply too big and not practical.

However, once that problem is solved, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology will allow devices to do more to enhance people’s lives and help them better manage their health.

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