IBM has created a business unit to develop Watson cognitive computing to support healthcare apps written for the Apple Watch.
The formation of the business unit builds on its MobileFirst partnership with Apple.
At the end of 2014 IBM unveiled a host of applications for iOS as part of this partnership, which aims to provide business applications and IT consulting services for Apple devices.The first batch of applications targeted the banking, retail, insurance, financial services, telecommunications, airline and government sectors.
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The computer supplier has now extended the partnership to enable iOS apps developed using Apple’s HealthKit programming toolkit to store and process data in an IBM cloud.
Among the first products it plans to develop is a wellness application for businesses, which it said would enable companies to monitor the health of staff.
IBM said the business unit – called Watson Health – would arm medical researchers with secure, open-data storage combined with access to sophisticated data analytics.
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According to IBM, health and fitness app developers and medical researchers will be able to store and analyse data and access anonymous health data on the company’s Health Cloud, which is powered by IBM Watson.
Analyst Gartner estimated that the wearable devices market for fitness products was worth $70m in 2014. This is forecast to grow to $170m by 2017.
Medical and fitness applications developed using Apple’s HealthKit and FitnessKit tools will be able to tap into the power of IBM Watson for health data analytics. "With Apple's groundbreaking ResearchKit, researchers can easily create apps that take advantage of the power of mobile devices to give them rich data from a diverse global population," said Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice-president of operations.
IBM said it will also build enterprise wellness apps using HealthKit to enable companies to provide a way for staff to better manage their health needs across acute diseases to general fitness.
John Kelly III, senior vice-president of IBM's research and solutions portfolio, said: "IBM's secure data storage and analytics solutions will enable doctors and researchers to draw on real-time insights from consumer health and behavioural data at a scale never before possible."