‘I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ it will be about health.’ A bold statement from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, and with the latest instalment of the Apple Watch, it seems Apple are taking the next step in realizing that goal.
The big talking point around the new Apple Watch is the ability to measure your blood oxygen level and the now FDA certified ECG. Fitbit and Garmin boast similar but what makes Apple’s smart watch positioning stand out is twofold: Apple claims its smart watch will save lives, and some view the data generated from the ECG as a first step towards the democratisation of patient health data.
So they say they’ll save lives: possibly the ultimate emotional claim a brand can make. Watching the stories from the launch event brings the ambition of this goal to life. The most widely recognised life-saving benefit is the Apple Watch’s ability to detect Arrythmia (abnormal heart beat rhythms) and Atrial fibrillation (a form of Arrythmia) via its ECG feature. The latter was given FDA approval in the US – a huge step for Apple’s credentials in the health industry.
But the ECG is just one piece of a bolder ambition, as Apple looks to use the Apple Watch and iPhone as a starting point for putting health records in the hands (or on the wrists) of patients. Just as the launch of the iPod in 2001 sent digital music mainstream, Apple’s latest launch could be the point where the digital health revolution kicks off in earnest.
So more broadly, what is the Apple Health strategy? Is it to sell more hardware? Possibly. Is it to help democratize healthcare data? Perhaps. Or are they looking to continue to build and commercialise their pool of data? Apple’s decision in 2016 to purchase personal health record startup Gliimpse, as well as the launch of Apple Fitness+, suggests there are plans to merge wellness and healthcare together to create a product that Apple users will frequently engage with, providing the tech giant with even more personal data. Another patent filed by Apple suggests that data could be used to connect patients to doctors via telemedicine, but we’ll have to wait and see how things progress. Regardless, Apple having an even stronger health claim will help them sell more phones – an attractive prospect given the drop in smartphone sales this year.
If Apple’s goal is to commercialise big data, then how will this work in conjunction with their current commitment to data privacy? Yes, there are serious rewards but consumers’ trust in Apple as the safekeeper of their data may be put to the test.
In the short term, Apple is partnering with leading academic and research medical institutions to democratise how medical research is conducted, and it plans to pioneer a wellness-based approach to employee healthcare. These all seem altruistic enough to warrant consumers signing away their data. But what’s the long term plan? Build an ecosystem with a multitude of products (Apple Fitness+, HealthKit, ResearchKit, CareKit) to sell more stuff, or to sell more data? It’s clear they want to become a leader in healthcare, but in what way is still possibly to be revealed.
Will Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind be about health? We’ll have to wait and see, but if they succeed, it will almost definitely be the greatest contribution to their wallet.