What it is: A software framework for real-time health monitoring through mobile or wearable computers.
On March 9, 2015, everyone was waiting to see what Apple would have to say about the Apple Watch. What most people missed was the real innovation, which was ResearchKit.
Like most innovations, ResearchKit is meant to solve a pressing problem that current technology can’t solve easily. In this case, the big problem with medical research is getting enough data from test subjects.
In the old days, this meant posting flyers on bulletin boards and hoping people would call or show up. This time-consuming method typically attracted a small number of test subjects, and only people who physically lived near the researcher’s facilities.
What ResearchKit does is open medical research up to the whole world. Analyzing data gathered from a small sample of people who live in the same city provides far less information than far greater data collected from all over the world from people who live in different climates, environments, and situations that could all affect that person’s health in subtle ways. With ResearchKit, both the quantity and quality of data can be vastly increased.
More importantly, ResearchKit allows real-time health monitoring, which is not practical with today’s research methods. To watch people 24 hours a day, researchers would have to confine test subjects in a laboratory. On the other hand, ResearchKit allows researchers to examine test subjects in their everyday lives while providing second by second information automatically. Such data was impossible to collect in the past. With ResearchKit, that problem no longer exists.
Apple made ResearchKit open source for several reasons. First, open source means that anyone can examine the code to make sure it’s accurate and doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy. Second, open source allows others to port ResearchKit to work with other operating systems including Android or Windows. Third, open source discourages rivals from duplicating the functions of ResearchKit and encourages everyone to share and collect critical medical data in the same format.
Since ResearchKit also ties into HealthKit, this also encourages more people to work with HealthKit, which means working with iOS. By making ResearchKit open source, Apple ensures that more people will want to use it. With their head start in medical research, Apple will likely define the new standard for medical research and indirectly define the standard for mobile and wearable computers at the same time.
Real-time health monitoring and data collection was simply not possible before the popularity of the iPhone. With so many people using the iPhone, they now have one more reason never to switch. With so many people using alternatives, these people now have one more reason to switch to the iPhone, especially if their health depends on it.
ResearchKit promises to change world health, which makes it the most innovative technology Apple has ever created, but which most people still fail to recognize. When ResearchKit helps find a cure to save your life, you’ll be thankful that Apple created it.