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Apple 'springs forward' with more than just the Watch

Michael deAgonia | March 11, 2015
With the new MacBook, ResearchKit, Apple Pay and even HBO Now, Apple showed it's still innovating.

Apple's global reach is also helping it push another recent initiative, Apple Pay.Apple's answer to the digital wallet -- launched with support from six banks -- is now supported by 2,500 card-issuing banks and 700,000 locations across the U.S., including vending machines. Considering the rival digital wallet systems available on the market, this is significant growth. The speed with which Apple Pay has gained ground has obviously caught Samsung's attention.

Health talk, not just lip service
Last June, Apple announced HealthKit, a repository for third-party health and fitness apps to consolidate collected data. While there was speculation about Apple hiring all sorts of medical experts, it was easy to dismiss what those hires could do for the health of Apple customers. I've written about my own forays into health and fitness tracking, but others have made it even clearer just how influential the iPhone can be as a health and fitness hub.

At yesterday's event, Apple built on its commitment to health by introducing ResearchKit, a foundation that developers can use to build apps for medical research. Apple is using ResearchKit to tackle problems like recruiting study participants, collecting data and tracking the frequency with which data is collected. (Apple engineers are already working with a dozen institutes and the company demonstrated several apps at yesterday's event, including apps that help research on Parkinson's Diseasre, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, asthma and breast cancer.

ResearchKit relies on the iPhone's built-in sensors and storage to track, store and transmit specific data, all of which is kept private from Apple; the apps are opt-in and the information they generate is only available to the user and medical staff. While each person's results are private, they're aggregated with other users' submissions, giving researchers a larger sample size than they might otherwise have. Another bonus: Patients can see their own data and use it to make lifestyle changes that can boost their health.

The best part is that this project is open-source, so any mobile platform can get involved. That makes this an even biggergame-changer for medical research/

Siri, where's Home(Kit)?
Most surprising yesterday was the dearth of any HomeKit announcements. Homekit is about the consumer side of the Internet of Things -- the capability for devices to "talk" to each other. Apple's Homekit is designed to be a centralized depository that allows developers to tie together home appliances and automated devices with Siri support, much like HealthKit ties separate fitness app data into a single location. A good example is Avea lights, LED bulbs that can communicate with each other to set up scenes or custom color schemes, or the Honeywell Lyric. (It's a smart thermostat that connects to your Wi-Fi and can be controlled via iPhone or an pple Watch app.


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