A “Healthy” Strategy For Apple’s Wearables

[pullquote]Some smartwatches are dumber than the sundial. ~ chetansharma (@chetansharma)[/pullquote]

Until recently, wearable computing devices have been fairly uninteresting to me. I’ve read the various articles concerning wearables, but I consider wearables to be in a terribly primitive state — niche, at best, gimmicks at worst.

And Apple wearables? I’ve ruefully nicknamed the rumored Apple watch the “Lazarus Watch” because the rumors of its existence simply will not die. ((The Raising of Lazarus or the Resurrection of Lazarus is a miracle of Jesus, in which Jesus brings Lazarus back to life four days after his burial. ~ Wikipedia))

McCabe’s Law: Nobody has to do anything. ~ Charles McCabe

WatchApple DOES NOT have to do wearables to “survive.” And they most certainly do not have to chase the wearables market just because Samsung, Google and others have chosen to do so. Let me put it this way: Dogs chase cars but that doesn’t mean that they can drive them. Similarly, just because others are chasing the wearable market does not mean that they’ll be able to drive that market, even if they catch it.

Apple’s New Category History

Recently the wearables rumors have taken a twist. Perhaps Apple’s rumored wearables are focused on health, not fitness. This, I think, is worthy of further study. But first, let’s look back to the history of Apple’s new technology categories.

If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge


When the iPod entered the MP3 market, MP3 players were terrible. They were either small devices that held few songs or large, clunky devices that held many. Navigation was horrible and music discovery was virtually nonexistent.

Apple re-thought and completely re-invented MP3 players with the iPod.

One of the biggest insights we have was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless. ~ Steve Jobs

With the iPod, Apple combined a small form factor yet large storage capacity, with the navigational prowess of the click wheel and the discoverability and music management of iTunes. In other words, they re-thought and re-invented the category.


Prior to the iPhone, smartphones were phones with some very minor and very bad computing features welded on. The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market by increasing ram and processing size, adding a touch capacitive screen, creating a robust OS designed to take advantage of that touch screen and, later, adding the ability to download and purchase apps online.

In other words, Apple took and existing market and re-invented it in their own image.

You don’t want to be first, right? You want to be second or third. You don’t want to be – Facebook is not the first in social media. They’re the third, right? Similarly, you know, if you look at Steve Jobs’ history, he’s never been first. ~ Malcolm Gladwell

The Pattern

[pullquote]Apple is the favorite of so many analysts because it takes business school strategies and throws them down the drain. ~ Analysize (@Analysize)[/pullquote]

Apple’s fiercest critics look at what Apple’s competitor’s are doing and assume that Apple should match their every move. However, Apple’s strategy has never been built around responding to competitors. In fact, one of Apple’s key differentiators is that they act as if they HAVE no competitors.

Apple has customers, not competitors. Apple’s decisions are not based on what their competitor’s are doing but, rather, on what’s best for their customers.

(Author’s note: The above was inspired by an article written by Ben Bajarin, entitled: What I Love About Apple’s Strategy.)

1) Moving the Needle

Apple is a huge company. Whatever they do needs to be large enough to make a difference to their bottom line. As you can see from the following chart, there are few markets that are large enough to attract and hold Apple’s attention.


2) Re-Invent, Not Invent

[pullquote]Q: What do you call a watch worn on a belt?
A: A waist of time[/pullquote]

Apple doesn’t break new ground. They find an under-developed market, look for the pain points and then re-invent, rather than invent, the category.

3) Apple starts with a clean sheet of paper.

Most companies build upon their own product successes. Not Apple. They start over from the beginning. The advantage of this is that they create new products that meet customer’s needs. The disadvantage is that they routinely cannabalize their own successful products.

  1. The Mac didn’t build upon the Apple II;
  2. The iPod didn’t build upon the Mac; and
  3. The iPhone didn’t build upon the iPod.

I think that one of the mistakes that both Apple critics and supporters are making is to assume that Apple’s Wearable products will be some variation of what exist’s today. If Apple follows its historic pattern, Apple will not stand upon the shoulders of what exists today. Instead, their wearable product will be as different from what is currently on the market as:

— The Mac was from DOS
— The iPod was from MP3 players
— The iPhone was from Palm, Windows Mobile and Blackberry Smartphones; and
— The iPad was from Windows Tablets.

4) Controlling the Key Technology?

[pullquote]The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows. ~ Aristotle Onassis[/pullquote]

Apple is patient. They will wait until the technology is ready. And one of the keys to Apple — which they state over and over and over again — is their desire to control the key technology.

(We) look and ask, can we control the key technology? ~ Tim Cook

If we’re trying to foresee Apple’s future, one of the first questions you need to answer is: What key technology does Apple think they can control?

5) Significant Contribution

[pullquote]A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. ~ Ayn Rand[/pullquote]

What is Apple’s mission? To make the very best products in the world that really deeply enrich people’s lives. ~ Tim Cook

Apple targets markets that matter to their clients but, just as importantly, they target markets that MATTER TO THEM.

Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want?” ~ Tim Cook at AllThingsD


Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. ~ Albert Szent-Györgyi von Nagyrapolt

[pullquote]We are never prepared for what we expect. ~ James Michener[/pullquote]

I don’t know what’s coming in wearables, but I seriously doubt that it is what is currently being envisioned.

Would the Fitness market “move the needle” for Apple? I doubt it. But health care? Now that’s far more intriguing. Let me put it to you this way: How many fitness centers are there and how many hospitals are there and how much money is being spent on each? If you look at it that way, you can see that health is the far, far larger market of the two.

What if the more important market — the one that’s ripe for disruption and big enough to warrant Apple’s attention — is people for whom things like pulse oximetry are a matter of life and death? People whose health costs are on a trajectory to bankrupt the U.S.?

Real-time triage. Long-term observation. Correlation with hospital records. With the baby boom generation about to move en masse into government-subsidized health insurance programs, nursing homes and hospice care, those are serious growth markets. ~ Phillip Elmer-DeWitt

The health care rumors have opened my eyes. The fitness market is neither large enough nor suitable for a new Apple category. But there isn’t a bigger nor more important market than health care. We may still not know the shape that the future will take. But we may have just discovered the direction.

Go as far as you can see; when you get there you’ll be able to see farther. ~ Thomas Carlyle

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

8 thoughts on “A “Healthy” Strategy For Apple’s Wearables”

  1. I would take issue with the idea that the iPad was from the Windows Tablet PC. The Tablet PC, from beginning to end, had at its core the notion that ink–i.e., pen entry–was the important data entry choice. This was the fundamental error (and helps explain why the Windows desktop still mouse-dependent in its alleged touch-friendly form: It descends from a UI deigned for a stylus, not true touch.

    The iPad really descends from the iPhone and the realization that a “big iPod Touch,” which the iPad was originally ridiculed as, completely changed the game because the larger size enabled uses that were not practical, and certainly not optimal, on the phone.

      1. My point as that it was so nothing like it that the Tablet PC couldn’t be considered a precursor of the iPad in the way that, say, the Creative Rio could for the iPad.

    1. Apple has not filed for a trademark in the U.S. The closest thing is an application for a “Movement sensing and measuring device and instrumentation system for detecting human activity, sleep and wake cycles, seizures, tremors, falls, uneven gait, convulsions and abnormal or dysfunctional body movements namely, an electronic device worn on the body consisting of hardware, firmware, electronic sensors, global position systems, and microprocessors, clock, and operating software which function as a unit to sense and identify certain body movements, store information related thereto and provide and send health and medical related notifications, reminders, alerts and information to another device or devices through electronic or wireless means, used for medical and health purposes.” This was filed in July by Smart Monitor Corp. of San Jose, which may or may not be a stalking horse for Apple.

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