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Apple partners with IBM on new health data analysis

The cloud-based health platform will help analyze patient data collected from Apple devices. Plus: Apple has now released its ResearchKit to medical researchers.

IBM's new health platform will tap patient data information collected by Apple devices. James Martin/CNET

Apple is part of a collective formed by IBM to develop new technology that will help health care companies analyze patient data collected from millions of wearable Apple devices.

IBM on Monday unveiled Watson Health Cloud, a cloud-based platform that will allow health researchers to not only store and share and patient data but provide access to IBM's data mining and analytics capabilities. IBM's platform, which harnesses the same cognitive computing power that made Watson a household name to millions of , draws on the vast amounts of consumer health data that can be collected using Apple's ResearchKit and HealthKit, frameworks that help developers create apps that can gather and share medical information about its users.

"Our deep understanding and history in the health care industry will help ensure that doctors and researchers can maximize the insights available through Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit data," John E. Kelly III, senior vice president for IBM research and solutions portfolio, said in a statement. "IBM's secure data storage and analytics solutions will enable doctors and researchers to draw on real-time insights from consumer health and behavioral data at a scale never before possible."

Apple unveiled HealthKit during its Worldwide Developer Conference in June. The software lets consumers track health-related data and serves as a hub for that information. ResearchKit, which was unveiled last month, is designed to help medical professionals build apps and technologies to assist with various kinds of research.

On Tuesday, Apple announced that it is making ResearchKit available to medical researchers so that they can begin developing new apps. The first wave of ResearchKit-based apps, which are designed to be used for studying asthma, diabetes, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson's disease, have so far enrolled over 60,000 iPhone users, Apple said.

"Studies that historically attracted a few hundred participants are now attracting participants in the tens of thousands," said Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, in a statement Tuesday.

The IBM partnership highlights the increasing focus that the tech sector is putting on health care. Several companies have introduced health-centric gadgets, while others see an opportunity to mine patient data or collect readings on individuals to predict when they'll get sick and to tailor treatment.

Apple rival Samsung has made a big push in health with its mobile devices, including heart rate monitors and health-focused apps in its Galaxy line of smartphones and Gear Fit. It has also unveiled efforts to develop new sensors and a cloud-based platform for collecting health data.

The Apple Watch , Apple's foray into the wearables market, is positioned in part as a health and fitness device. It includes features such as activity trackers and vibrating reminders to stand up if you've been sitting too long. The device's Activity app gives you a view of your daily activity, including how many calories you've burned, how much exercise you've done and how often you've stood up to get a break from sitting.

IBM also plans to use HealthKit to build a suite of wellness apps designed to help companies work with their employees to better manage their health needs, from general fitness to acute diseases.

Also partnering with IBM and Apple on the new unit are Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, a medical device manufacturer.

Update April 14 at 10:13 a.m. PT: Added information about the release of ResearchKit to medical researchers.