Despite an amusing report to the contrary, Apple's main motivation behind the release of its first smartwatch was not to improve the overall health of its customer base and change modern healthcare.
By Al Sacco, Managing Editor, CIO
If you think Apple’s goal with the Apple Watch was to boldly enter the burgeoning smartwatch market with a sleek-looking gadget that oozes cool factor, and then slowly steal market share, shape consumer expectations and methodically Hoover up dollars in a quest for (even more) obscene profitability, you are embarrassingly mistaken — at least according to a new article on Time.com, titled “The real reason Apple made the Apple Watch.”
Time.com columnist Tim Bajarin wants you to believe Apple’s ultimate aim with its smartwatch is “to make its customers healthier and help reform the healthcare system.”
An admirable and grand plan, no? Sure, but it also sounds a lot like Apple marketing material.
Apple Watch an average fitness tracker at best
The Time.com post includes some insightful details about Apple’s ongoing Watch development. For example, Bajarin writes: “For 12 hours a day, six days a week, Apple brings in Apple employees of every shape, condition and ethnicity to do various exercises and monitor them with the most sophisticated medical systems available. Apple has seven full-time nurses in the facility I visited, using medical monitoring equipment that can determine all types of heath [sic] related data points. The lab even has special chambers that can simulate temperate and weather conditions, in which various exercises or activities can be monitored.”
The author suggests Apple Watch came as a direct result of founder Steve Jobs’s struggles with pancreatic cancer and his related interactions with the modern healthcare system. Bajarin refers to Apple Watch’s “exceptional health related tracking, monitoring and motivational functions,” and writes that, “[w]hile fitness trackers are great, it takes something like the Apple Watch and a serious platform and ecosystem of compatible devices to deliver on things like HealthKit, ResearchKit and CareKit, all designed to create and gather the kind of information that could be used in monitoring users’ personal medical needs.”
Ironically, these statements spotlight exactly what’s wrong with the current iteration of Apple Watch, because it’s health tracking is decidedly average compared to other high-end fitness devices, and Apple’s closed ecosystem means it doesn’t integrate with some of the most popular fitness apps.
You kind of have to wonder whether Bajarin has ever used an Apple Watch …
Better Apple Watch = more paying customers
I stayed up way past my bedtime on the evening, nay morning, Apple first listed its smartwatch for online presale — 3 a.m. ET to be exact — to ensure that I’d get my Watch as soon as possible. And since I received it almost a year ago, I can count on one hand the days I have not worn my Watch. In other words, I’ve been aboard the Apple Watch bandwagon since day 1. You might even say I’m a “power user.”
But I’m also a bit disappointed the company hasn’t added any significant new health features to my $400 device during the past year.
The reality is that while Apple’s Watch may have more smartwatch features than top-of-the-line trackers, such as advanced notifications and broad app support, its sensors aren’t exactly scientific; it lacks many common features, including a leaderboard of friends — largely considered the single most motivational fitness tracker capability; and it relies on the iPhone for other functionality, such as GPS for location and distance tracking. In fact, it’s difficult to come up with any sort of significant Apple Watch fitness features that aren’t available on another, cheaper fitness watch or health band.
I’ll take off my Boston Jaded Journalists cap for a minute here and recognize that the Apple Watch is the company’s first attempt at a fitness tracker. Apple is clearly doing a lot of work behind the scenes on the health platforms Bajarin mentioned. The very first iPhone wasn’t exactly impressive compared to other smartphones of the late 2000s, but it proved to be incredibly popular and the driving force behind Apple’s staggering profitability — and, ironically, the reason why its revenue decreased for the first time in 13 years last quarter.
It’s safe to say the best is yet to come for Apple Watch.
However, it’s simply naive to believe Apple’s goal with the Watch was to make the world a better place. The real reasons Apple made the Apple Watch are the same reasons it makes any product: money, market share and additional hooks into its proprietary ecosystem. Any other happy accidents, such as healthier customers, that come as a result are just icing on the ca … err, low-fat dressing on the kale salad.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.