In April 2015, Apple unveiled the highly anticipated Apple Watch. In the U.S. alone, the Apple Watch immediately sold 957,000 units in its pre-order phase, with 30 million units expected to sell within a year. Compare that to the total number of Android Wear watches sold in 2014 — 720,000.
As impressive as Apple’s sales figures are, these numbers are not nearly as dazzling as the watch’s global public health potential. Imagine if a good chunk of the future 30-million-plus Apple Watch users became available for clinical research studies. Medical researchers would have access to patients of all stripes, monitoring the health statuses of people throughout the world with an app for free.
The medical profession has big plans for the watch, far beyond being able to watch Netflix 24/7 on your arm. But in this age of wearable technology, has the Apple Watch lived up to the hype?
While Apple is remaining tight-lipped about how many watches have sold after the preorder phase, one can safely bet the watch will exceed sales goals this year. Industry experts indicate that the Apple Watch has to be a hit for people to begin adopting wearable tech. Remember when the first iPad came out, and people didn’t even know what a tablet was? Now, the device is as necessary as a TV or microwave, but much more portable. Apple hopes that necessity allure will happen with its watches.
Medical Research Implications
Health care professionals also have their fingers crossed that Apple Watch sales stay strong, but why? The answer lies in ResearchKit, Apple’s recently released open-source platform intended for medical research. The platform helps medical professionals build their own apps to gather more health data more accurately from iPhone and Apple Watch app users who opt in. Already, several renowned research institutions have used ResearchKit to create apps for studies on Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Apple’s Role in Introducing Health Care to Big Data
The health care sector was fairly slow to acknowledge the potential of big data for the future of medicine, but the industry is catching on quickly. In fact, health informatics, the collection and study of medical data, is now a subspecialty of medicine that has exploded in recent years. The Apple Watch is possibly the best innovation that could ever happen to health information technology because the device truly puts the “big” in big data.
Jeff Williams, Senior Vice President of Operations for Apple, said, “iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health. With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research. ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before.”
With ResearchKit’s development, Apple has raised its smartwatch’s status from novel gadget to potentially disease-curing device. Only time will whether the Apple Watch is able to reach its full potential as a medical research tool.
If you are interested in furthering your career in health informatics, consider enrolling in the online Master of Science in Health Informatics degree program with the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Image via Flickr by shinya