The inside story of how Apple’s new medical research platform was born


Daniela Hernandez, for Fusion:

Last week, Apple unveiled ResearchKit, an open-source platform that will make it easier for scientists to build apps that collect health data for research studies from volunteers, along with five iPhone apps aimed at some of the most costly medical conditions in the world. A day later, thousands of people had already downloaded these apps. The sheer number of participants was so huge that many are already calling ResearchKit and its companion apps a revolution in how medical science will be done.

The idea behind ResearchKit was to use the iPhone’s ubiquity to give scientists unprecedented amounts of clinical data. By using the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, microphone, camera, and pressure sensors—as well as a bevy of personal trackers that can be connected to the iPhone, like the FitBit, glucose monitors, or AliveCor’s portable electrocardiogram recorder—scientists would be able to gather activity and biometric data on people who opted in to be part of research studies. A typical clinical study might include hundreds or thousands of subjects; a ResearchKit study could easily include hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions.

Only Apple could leverage an existing installed base to deploy a new medical platform in such unprecedented numbers. As Apple says, “You’re already carrying a powerful medical research tool.” And the fact that they’ve open-sourced the health data shows that it’s not about the profits. I’m impressed.