At WWDC, continuity across devices is the theme

Apple is now moving in new directions -- and beyond where Steve Jobs might have gone

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Despite some big expectations about a new Health platform, the announcements about HealthKit APIs and Apple's Health app were buried in the middle of the two-hour-long keynote. That makes it easy to dismiss, especially since Apple didn't unveil, or even talk about, a sensor-laden watch to go with it. But HealthKit is likely a bigger deal than Apple let on.

The keynote focused on discussing the practical values of its Health app and those APIs -- the ability to record a range of metrics from varying devices including activity, weight, blood pressure, sleep and data associated with chronic diseases. That's useful information and it shows that Apple is building support for a broad health data platform.

Yesterday's demo also touched on the possibility that health data can be communicated to a physician or another healthcare professional if key metrics fall out of a specified range. That really capitalizes on the power of a mobile health platform. Apple's presentation left the impression that we should expect this capability someday, but not too soon, which I think was strategic on Apple's part. That's particularly true in light of Samsung's much flashier announcement of a device -- the Simband -- and the SAMI cloud-based health aggregating service, which won't ship for several months.

I say this because of two things that Apple noted about HealthKit.

One is that the Mayo Clinic, one of the most highly regarded medical organizations in the country, is partnering with Apple to develop such a platform. In addition to being a top-notch medical facility that incorporates numerous highly-rated hospitals, the Mayo Clinic has been at the forefront of mobile health solutions. It recently conducted a study that showed consumer-oriented activity trackers could predict recovery time following heart surgery and it has one of the most comprehensive and well-designed apps for hospital patients on the planet. In addition, it recently launched its own mobile health app/service that, for a monthly subscription, connects users with a personal health assistant that can handle a wide range of tasks -- researching obscure diseases or forms of cancer, locating and setting up consultations with specialists, making medical appointments and handling follow-ups, and even helping users select a primary care doctor or health insurance plan. Those features are all available regardless of whether the services are provided by the Clinic or not.

The other is a partnership with EPIC, one of the biggest producers of electronic health record (EHR) systems in the country. EPIC commands a large share of the hospital EHR market and is commonly used by hospital chains, medical groups and practices. If Apple is planning to create a platform that truly links data from a mobile health platform to doctors, working with EPIC is a huge coup. The two partnerships, and Apple's hiring spree of healthcare executives over the past couple of years, give the company a lot of credibility in the medical community among doctors and other providers, hospital and healthcare administrators and health IT professionals.

iCloud Drive and CloudKit

Announcing iCloud Drive, an expanded version of Apple's existing storage/sync/backup service, Apple has finally delivered a version of iCloud that can compete with others in the space like Dropbox, Microsoft's OneDrive and Google Drive.

Apple also touted CloudKit, a platform designed to allow developers to build cloud-based applications. Although it didn't make many details about CloudKit public, Apple described the platform as one in which it handles most of the back-end architecture needed to make those apps function. This would appear to position Apple as a competitor in the consumer, prosumer and potentially the small business or even enterprise cloud application markets.

Beyond the consumer features and new platforms

While Apple spent a lot of time showing off selected parts of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, it also announced major functional upgrades for developers, including changes to the App Store, a new programming language "Swift" and 4,000 new developer APIs. That is an important reminder that despite the media attention the annual keynote always garners, the real meat will be in the training sessions, labs, and other events Apple has planned for the developers this week. That applies to those there in person and those attending virtually through the WWDC app and their membership in Apple's developer programs. (All of the information is under Apple's non-disclosure agreement.)

Suffice it to say that Apple is staking out new ground, and some of that ground -- like HealthKit -- is ground that the late Steve Jobs might not have been interested in. Given the building blocks it's putting place, I'm looking forward to seeing what the company has in store over the next six to 12 months.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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