Week 18, 2016 - CareKit; OmniFocus automation

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Now that it’s been released, I’ll give my thoughts on why CareKit is potentially so important and talk a bit about the new automation features for OmniFocus.

CareKit officially released

Last week was the official release of Apple’s CareKit. While it was announced at Apple’s last event (where the Baby Pro and iPhone SE were also introduced), it wasn’t actually possible yet to use CareKit until this release. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the idea behind CareKit is to make apps for monitoring your health and possible sharing this with health professionals.

I don’t have any experience with the framework, and the last time I asked someone about it was when I discovered that Apple hadn’t granted access to the framework yet. Like ResearchKit1 before it, CareKit is completely open source with the code available on GitHub2. I’m mostly interested in the potential for this new framework though, so I’ll focus on that.

Let’s be clear about some things so we can place CareKit in the correct context. First, it’s an unfortunate fact that people get sick and many times this will be either chronic or something with a lengthy recovery time. The type of sickness doesn’t even matter that much. Secondly, at times like this it’s very important to have as much data as possible. And thirdly, it is hard to store data about anything like this correctly.

Let’s expand on “correctly” here as I mean that in a way that is useful for your doctor. For example, you have a bad day (or an exceptionally good one) on your way to recovery and wish to make a note of this. Either because you feel like it might be useful or because your doctor asked for it. You can of course use any note taking app you wish or even write it down somewhere in an actual notebook. As a conscientious person who cares about your health, you write everything down about what you’re doing at that time. Before your next doctor visit this happens 10 times, and you do so every time.

Then when you’re at the doctor, you start discussing this. You take your notes, and the summary you very handily made in advance, and start discussing it. You’re feeling good about this, and then the doctor will ask a question that you didn’t write down and can’t remember either. Or the doctor would like to see the similarities between these events, or even know what happened the day before or after.

As most of us aren’t health professionals, we don’t know what to look for usually. We also don’t know how to match the data or draw connections that doctors are trained to see. And this is the kind of thing where a framework like CareKit can be very useful. If these apps are developed well3, they can provide a wealth of information. Instead of needing to think about what you will have to note, it can ask you exactly what is needed. Additionally, if you’re using some kind of fitness tracker (even just the data from the phone’s motion sensor) that integrates with HealthKit it can add that data to the report.

A best case scenario would involve these apps actually sending the data to your doctor so that it would be proactively analyzed, resulting in the doctor contacting you when something might start going wrong. There are many obstacles with regard to that scenario though, so I don’t think that is going to happen any time soon. However, the potential benefits of a framework like this are hard to underestimate.

Of course, it would be even better if this could easily be used with Android phones as well4.

Automating your tasks

OmniFocus, my preferred task management tool, introduced various automation tools on iOS. Well, tools is a big word. They added far more extensive x-callback-url support and the ability to import TaskPaper5. The end result of this however, is that it now become possible to build templates for your projects. Something that had been missing for a long time.

Before anyone starts explaining why X is better, I’m very aware that task management apps are a personal choice. Some people prefer to have simple todo lists while others go for a complete Getting Things Done workflow, and there is a lot of space in between those extremes. OmniFocus is very much aimed at the GTD part of that spectrum so just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it will for you.

What the new feature finally allows me to do however is have a setup where I can reuse things. Using TaskPaper’s format, and running a script from Editorial, I now have a template that I can use to prepare for holidays. This has all the things I might otherwise forget about (check if visa’s are needed, get insurance, empty the fridge of perishables, etc.) and I can easily6 create a new project from that every time I go for a new trip. Similar things are now possible using Workflow, but I suggest reading the earlier linked blog post for some good examples and links to integrations they built.

As there was no other supported method of doing this, and I’m very lazy, I’m happy to see this focus on automation. If you’re a user of OmniFocus, I can highly recommend looking into this for your own uses.

  1. A similar open source framework from Apple that is aimed at medical research. ↩︎

  2. At this time, about 9% of the code is written in Swift. It will be interesting to see how that will change in the future. ↩︎

  3. Which would certainly involve having medical experts involved in the process. ↩︎

  4. I have no idea how easy (or hard) it is to use a mostly Objective-C library on Android. If it was completely written in Swift that would help, but it isn’t. ↩︎

  5. TaskPaper is both a Markdown version of todo lists as well as an app focused on dealing with that. ↩︎

  6. Where easily means opening the template, running an Editorial script, and filling in a couple of variables. All in all, maybe 30-40 seconds. ↩︎

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