In the early 1980s, a personal computing firm started marketing PCs for students. Introduction of a PC for classroom transformed education, and gave Apple the mettle to compete with the likes of IBM. The toy for geeks found a mass market in children stepping into the IT age. Apple achieved this feat by giving Apple IIe’s away for free to schools so that the next generation of Apple users were familia with its PC, and appreciated how intrinsic it became to their life, and most of all, helped create a brand following. The company is trying to do the same with its watch and medical care. But, this time, it need not go to the hospitals. Apple is no longer a new enterprise, and, thankfully, consumers are driving innovation, not organisations.
In the first quarter of 2019, Counterpoint research highlights, smartwatch shipments jumped 49% over last year, with Apple expanding its market share to 35.8%. Apple’s market share was three times that of Samsung and was higher than the next six smartwatch makers combined. With the company launching the next iteration of its smartwatch—Apple Watch Series 5 was launched on September 10—it is expected to gain a significant advantage over its competitors.
Apple Watch has transformed and is now more than a fitness tracker. The newest avatar can do much more than just calculating steps and tracking the heartbeat. Apple has ushered in an era of health tracking. The company also recently announced ECG for watch users (Series 3 and above). While the Cupertino giant is not the first company to foray into health research—Google has been working with hospitals for its AI technology—Apple’s latest is its first into consumer tech for health research.
In continuation of its previous studies, Apple has launched Apple Research, where volunteers can share their health data with research organisations. For instance, in the case of heart diseases, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association will collate data on heart rate and mobility. For women’s health, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will study menstrual cycles to inform screening and risk assessment of conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy and the menopausal transition. For hearing-related research, Apple has tied up with the University of Michigan and WHO to collect data over time to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The watch, in this instance, would determine noise levels in a city, and advise users when they reach a certain decibel.
Not only this, Apple has centred Research on privacy, which is pivotal. Most studies are voluntary, and Apple will not divulge personal details. If a person is registered for Apple Research, the company would indicate her age and other characteristics, but not disclose the name.
This would mark the first foray into large scale health initiatives where user data can help improve health outcomes. While the Watch had already launched an emergency feature in 2017, this would improve upon the earlier version. Test studies could now be conducted across countries with test subjects being monitored from across the world.
Plus, it also helps in creating new benchmarks, by not subscribing to the western notion of healthy, as profiles can be created with differing parameters for each person. For instance, someone may need more than just 10,000 steps in a day to keep healthy, while another person may not be able to do even 10,000 given her heart condition.
More important, it also paves the way for commercialisation of health tech for insurance and patient tracking. Doctors can track their patients real-time, and so can insurance companies, which can ease the hassle of insurance checks. Also, this can ensure that insurance is tied with a healthy lifestyle. Each time you don’t exercise, premiums go up. Companies would provide a fitness band with your health insurance, with pre-set targets to keep fit.
An Apple a day…