Forget the iWatch, Apple's next big thing is health

Forget the iWatch, Apple's next big thing is health

Summary: The Apple-sphere gets whipped into lather whenever new hardware is on the horizon, but if you take a longer view Apple has much more that a smartwatch up its sleeve.

TOPICS: Apple, iPhone
Forget the iWatch, Apple's next big thing is health - Jason O'Grady

Apple's got lots of "really great stuff" in the pipeline according to CEO Tim Cook, and it looks it's more than just a smartwatch. Possibly much more. 

Reading the tea leaves, all signs have been pointing to an Apple smartwatch for quite a while, but dig a little deeper and Apple's quest for better health (or possibly eternal life?) appear to be the company's next quest. 

It's no secret that Tim Cook wears a Nike FuelBand and loves it. Cook has been on the Nike Board of Directors since 2005, so his choice of fitness tracker is obvious, but it's also obvious that he cares about fitness and the "quantified self."

Cook has referred to wearable technology as "profoundly interesting" and he called the idea of wearing something on the wrist "natural." But things broke wide open when re/code's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher asked Cook "Is the future wearables?" and he responded "I think so.

But forget about the iWatch for a second, it's already a done deal. 

What we should be paying attention to is the larger picture and Apple's desire to conquer the burgeoning health monitoring market. Sure, an Apple watch should be able to tell the time, control your music, and display upcoming appointments and the weather. But that's nothing new, my Pebble smartwatch has been doing that for almost a year. (The new Pebble Steel takes things up a notch.) 

It's been said that Apple's upcoming smartwatch is more of health monitoring device than it is a watch surrogate for your iPhone and I think that it's a valid theory. In addition to Pebble a number of other Smartwatches have been on market (from Sony and Samsung to name a few) and Apple would be late to the party to announce a me-too watch product this late in the game. 

On January 31, 2014 9to5Mac broke the news that Apple's indeed working on a fitness product, dubbed "Healthbook," that's due to launch with iOS 8. According to the rumor, Apple's new product is a combination of hardware (watch, iPhone) and software (app) that is capable of monitoring your fitness (think: steps, calories, miles) and health (blood pressure, hydration, heart rate, glucose). Healthbook will be made possible with a combination of sensors and technology packed into both the iPhone and iWatch. 

Adding fuel to the fire (pun intended), The New York times reported that Apple executives Jeff Williams and Bud Tribble met with FDA officials last month about health applications. Hmmm...

Recent Apple hirings are the best indicator of what's to come from Apple. According to 9to5Mac:

Last year, Apple hired several health, medical, and fitness experts to work on these hardware and software projects. Some of the notable names include former Nike advisor Jay Blahnik and former Senseonics vice president Dr. Todd Whitehurst.

This year, Apple added Ravi Narasimhan from general medical devices firm Vital Connect and Nancy Dougherty from startup Sano Intelligence to its iWatch development team. We have also learned that Apple has also hired Michael O’Reilly, a former executive at Masimo Corporation who worked on noninvasive pulse sensors, last summer.

Yesterday a new Apple job posting appeared for a User Studies Exercise Physiologist, the obvious speculation being that the person would join the HealthBook team:

The job will require employees to "design and run user studies related to cardiovascular fitness & energy expenditure, including calories burned, metabolic rate, aerobic fitness level measurement/tracking and other key physiological measurements." The role will require application of "relevant knowledge to the design of products and their testing/validation through user studies."

On Tuesday, Apple hired Roy J.E.M Raymann from Philips Research, an expert on sleep research with extensive experience in wearables, sensors, and non-pharmacological methods of improving sleep quality. Raymann is obviously headed straight to the HealthBook team as well. 

The possibilities for HealthBook are absolutely staggering and Apple has the potential to re-invent and capitalize on the growing trend to monitor everything we do and crunch the numbers in the pursuit of better health.

Let's just stop calling it a "watch," ok?

What's your take on health monitoring sensors and apps? Is 'Health' Apple's next big thing?

Topics: Apple, iPhone

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  • Seems that "the next big thing" is speculating on Apple's Next Big Thing

    And has been for a while. Someone needs to build a Tumblr of products bloggers SWEAR Apple is going to release but never does.
  • Historical irony - Will Nike go "Nuclear" on Apple?

    Hmm. Eric Schmidt was an Apple Board Member. Now, only a very insignificant number of tech pundits have accused Mr. Schmidt of stealing Apple iOS and iPhone design secrets - which I must reiterate, only a tiny faction hold this viewpoint. :-) However, Google did market a very similar smartphone OS to Apple's product shortly after Mr. Schmidt left Apple's Board.

    Now, we learn Tim Cook is a Nike Board member. If Apple markets a "better FuelBand" will those same pundits accuse Apple of stealing Nike's ideas?

    And will Nike ask Tim Cook to resign from their Board as well?

    Note: This post is almost in jest but it will prove interesting how this all plays out this year.
    • We didn't just learn this...

      Apples portable tech and nike have been linked for years...

      Nike + ipod?

      There could be a market here. Sports watches (heartrate, burn, gps etc) are not only currently expensive (apple price point) the devices feel dated and unpolished.

      The future of smartwatches actually depends more on the mobile os than the smartwatch themselves.

      I gave up on my pebble for just this reason:

      Ios 8 (as we are talking apple, but the next android should also improve this) needs better api's for smartwatches - you should be able to control music, select music libraries, control 3rd party apps, system settings... A smartwatch should mean not having to take your phone out of your pocket.

      Oh and pebble have the right idea - nobody wants another device they have to charge every day
  • While

    While their rival Microsoft actually made a real project.

    A Major Step Forward: Combining the Fuel Cell and the Server
    • Actually Microsoft has built the best Health solution for QS

      Anyone wanting to aggregate Quantified Self devices can do so with the HealthVault
  • Apple jumps on bandwagon late

    1. Get Samsung Note 3
    2. Check out S health
    3. Copy idea and tell the world Apple invented it
    • Yeah, the iPod was terribly late on the PMP bandwagon, too.

      The iPhone was pretty far behind the smartphone bandwagon, as far as I recall. And let's not forget that Bill Gates had been trying to sell the world on tablet computing for almost a decade before the iPad made it mainstream.

      In all three cases Apple's devices and ecosystem not only disrupted (in the truest sense of the word) the existing market, but expanded it beyond what anyone thought was possible. It's reached the point where other companies can enter a segment and get little or no attention (e.g. S Health that you mention) yet TechBloggers and industry analysts fall all over themselves discussing Apple products that are still pure conjecture.

      Apple may be late on the bandwagon, but they're without question the "headliners" while everyone else is simply the "opening act."
      • That cause apple makes it easy

        And Samsung makes it complicated and annoying.

        I had a note 2, and now have a galaxy s4, and next week a note3. These devices were provided by my employer, I wish I could switch to iPhone.

        The crapware, complicated features, and now a virus scanner--forced on me by my employer--have made my phone into a handheld Win95 device.
        • Really?

          Samsung phones are complicated?

          So my mum of 68 can get a new galaxy phone and be updated and running in less than 20 mins and you find them complicated.

          I was going to suggest you're in the wrong place but actually I think you're just lying. Now wouldn't that be a shocker.
          Little Old Man
      • Ya, and all honesty, we know why.

        By time the iPad came out, everyone knew the iPod was the high end luxury raved about mp3 player. And no doubt, in my mind it was great, I still own and use an 80GB Classic. Great device. Then the iPhone came out, first touch screen smartphone that made using the internet on your cell phone a practical and useful experience. I know because I owned one for 3 years.

        Then the iPad came out. Depending how you look at it, the iPad was essentially a giant iPod touch of giant iPhone without the phone. Nothing more. The IT community had some good knowledge of exactly what it was.

        Most of the public who seen the ads only heard "magic" and thought they were getting a desktop computer on a light weight slab. I know this to be fact. Unless the "average people" I know are some kind of odd exception. I posted on ZDNet about a very happy Macbook owner I know who bout an iPad II shortly after they came out (imagine, an iPadII, not original) and thought it was going to be a tablet "Macbook" and figured out it wasnt and returned it.

        People thought it was going to be magic. Many found out...perhaps not so much.

        Thats why as matthew_maurice says "In all three cases Apple's devices and ecosystem not only disrupted (in the truest sense of the word) the existing market, but expanded it beyond what anyone thought was possible. It's reached the point where other companies can enter a segment and get little or no attention"

        And of course thats sad. Its one thing to praise, its got to be pointed out where magic does and does not exist.

        You cant allow a company to build a 14 foot long pencil and sell it as the magic writing device that will never quit without the appropriate critique, that I would think would point out to the public its not magic, and its actually just a really big pencil.
  • Already lost me

    I used to have a Nike+ thing that fit in my shoes and communicated with an iPod (and nothing but an iPod). The POS failed 3 times more often than the iPods themselves; adding a $100 to the cost of a device with a life expectancy of under 2 years. I was done with their proprietary BS when the iPod died.

    There are plenty of other health-related gadgets on the market...devices that don't require pairing with an Apple product.
    • ipod don't die

      They just fail to recharge.
      Worst charging logic of any portable device. Really.
      • My iPod is 7 years old

        It still charges.
        Laraine Anne Barker
  • Redefining

    This will completely redefine the way people think about "Fart Apps"
  • The last thing I want is another gizmo

    which eats up my time trying to figure it all out. Do you know how long we've had all kinds of meters and measures for dieting? And how long do people actually use them? Less than 30 days. Do you think we need even more self-focus on whether we ate the correct number of calories, walked that mile at the right heart rate, etc.? Fads. Just fads.

    They die quickly, and if that's the direction Apple is going, they won't do well, long term. Let's instead IMPROVE OUR CORE BUSINESS, k?

    That's true health. Items:

    1. Make it so we can learn how to use the stuff more easily.
    2. Make the Mac able to use Windows more easily.
    3. Make the iPads/iphones/pods whatever more in tune (pun intended) with the health INDUSTRY. Every physician I know (and they are my clients) uses one of those devices, and desperately needs to key them to his local office or hospital. But guess what: everyone else, is still on WINDOWS.

    Okay, 3 is enough. It gets tiring, to point out the obvious.
  • Oxygen Sensor

    Your blood oxygen level can be estimated without invasion using light.

    Tying oxygen level, sleeping, skin electrical potential, and long term monitoring has great potential for addressing sleep apnea.
    • Well, for monitoring it...

      Addressing it almost always ends up involving a CPAP machine and a facehugger mask.. which is why most people with sleep apnea end up untreated. We need a better solution, not a better monitor.
  • Here's the thing...

    Most people do NOT want to be constantly bothered to monitor their health data. That's the problem with what we have now with things like FitBit. If you're a Type A OCD type who obsessed with this sort of thing - you're the kind of person who jogs at 6am and gets a few kilometers in before breakfast each day. You go to the gym EVERY day.

    You're not like the rest of us.

    We eat at McDonalds and we consider driving to work 'exercise'.

    The only way this kind of thing is going to make a hit in the general population is if...

    1. Effortless. I have a Garmin 'health watch' and it requires me to strap a thing around my chest to monitor my breathing and pulse. Of course, they *could* have done this with a small clip on for my nose or even better, a small disk that sticks to the side of my nose or my neck... but that's too easy for the user.

    So, I don't use it. I just don't have the time for it.

    2. Integrated CONCLUSION based information. I honestly don't care what my BP is. Or my blood sugar. Or whatever.. I DO want to know when someone's going wrong - and what to do about it. If I'm about to pass out or have a heart attack - I want to know and I want it to call an ambulance.

    3. Private. I really don't want my weight broadcast to a website. Some people do like broadcasting their health status. Then again, there are some people who tweet every time they have a bowel movement. These people are not highly regarded...

    4. Nag free. I also don't want something that's going to constantly try to get me to do something I don't want to do. Let me know if something's wrong. Let me deal with it.

    Maybe Apple can get it write - but no one's got it right yet.
  • Given the ever increasing obesity levels

    In the developed world, not sure if this is going to spin as much cash as the itunes and the tv market would.
    Giving people more ways to sit on their rear ends and turn the brain off is printing money.