As expected, Apple announced the latest addition to their product lineup, the AppleWatch. We will leave the hardcore dissection to others, but in watching the event (or trying to watch what was an absolutely awful livestream, complete with annoying Chinese translator, and random recurring muting/video freezes), we came away with a few first impressions:
1) Are Smartwatches Really Mainstream Now?
Apple’s announcement will bring digital health closer into the mainstream, but by how much remains to be seen. Samsung has been relentless in pushing their Gear smartwatches out to consumers over the last two years, selling half a million units in Q1 of this 2014 alone. Now that Apple has gotten involved, they are aiming to differentiate based on quality, UX, and design (as we know, the core Apple strengths). The video demos showed off what seems like a very well designed, elegant product. With an array of wristbands and designs (including a gold-plated model), it was shown to us as *the* watch to have, smart or otherwise.
Using their one-of-a-kind design expertise, Apple today positioned their next product not just as a device for tech geeks or fitness buffs, but for anyone who uses GPS for directions, texts with friends, needs business meeting reminders, shops with credit cards, and so on. However that being said, the introductory, base-model cost of $350 is an inordinate price point for what amounts to a new toy. In spite of the gloss and the Jony Ive voiceover, it’s still tough to imagine these things as indispensable. Looking at the videos Apple showed of AppleWatch in action, the target audience for this product is clearly the rich, young, and healthy elite (who own an iPhone).
2) Viable Healthcare Market: Employers and Payers
A good amount of the demo was spent discussing the two wellness use cases, named Fitness and Workouts. Fitness tracks three different metrics (sitting vs standing, movement, exercise), while Workout enables setting specific goals for exercise. Data are passively sent to the Health App in the iPhone, enabling users to keep a log of their health activity. The low hanging fruit for healthcare here is in the employer market. Because data is passively sent to the iOS8 Health App, which is accessible to 3rd party apps via Healthkit, it is easy to envision an employer or payer sponsoring an app for office challenges, to mete out rewards for those who hit health targets, send reminders to people to stand up at their desk or take the stairs, etc. Again, this is not new technology, but now that Apple’s entered the market, thereby ‘legitimizing’ it, it’s exciting. If Apple hits the mark, their Watch may attract both employee end users who want to be rewarded for their healthy lifestyles (how many times did “Whole Foods” show up in the demos?), as well as CEO’s who want to be seen as “innovators,” ROI data be damned.
3) Nonviable Healthcare Market: Clinical End Users
Once again, Apple managed to leave the dedicated health care folks out there tantalized but somewhat frustrated. My head was spinning with potential ideas for clinical use cases. A medication buzzer app that sends haptic feedback as reminders. A patient-patient or patient-nurse messaging app using the digital touch medium, or a new set of clinically oriented emoji’s to check in between visits. However, Apple chose to leave this side of the market out altogether – whether because of FDA concerns about consumer marketing of tech products as clinical tools (ala 23andMe’s earlier debacle), or because they know at this point their target audience out of the gate is not a type 2 diabetic who’s at a high risk of getting sent to the hospital. Likely, they will focus on the DTC side themselves, and use their ability to attract alpha caliber partners – as with Epic and Mayo earlier this summer, and potentially with payers and employers later this fall – to serve as channels for healthcare end users.
As always, questions remain – around privacy, battery life, extent of interdependence on the iPhone, etc. We’ll look forward to tracking what was undeniably an exciting announcement today and continue our coverage when these devices actually enter the market in 2015.
Did you watch the event, or at least try to watch it? What did you think – will iPhone6, iOS8, and now AppleWatch be able to change healthcare? Or is this just more fodder for the hypemen who are taking over and bloating the digital health frontier?
While we can rejoice at the fact that the expectation has been dismayed by these devices to be another agent in healthcare, these would be a startling beginning for self-help radiology imaging, don’t you think.
Sriram, No doubt the imagination runs wild with the possibilities that have been opened up with these technologies. Optimistically, the release of the SDKs for both Health app and Apple Watch will outsource the development of these ideas to 3rd parties. It’s clear Apple is going to take a backseat on leading the charge – they’re just interested in being the sandbox and putting up adequate guardrails.