Apple Watch remains one of Apple’s most fascinating products. It’s deepening emphasis on health and wellness, along with Apple’s brilliant positioning of an intelligent guardian for your health, continues to be a core differentiator for the product. Now, six generations in, the Apple Watch’s grand vision seems to continue to become more clear.
While a product with such a strong emphasis on health and wellness could seem somewhat out of place for Apple’s product portfolio to the casual observer, it makes total sense in the context of what Apple observed and learned as Steve Jobs struggled with his health and battled pancreatic cancer. In fact, Tim Cook being quite candid when explaining how Apple makes decisions to enter new product categories, stating, “Apple will only enter markets where they feel they can make a significant contribution,” is telling. Apple clearly believes they can make a significant contribution to health, and Apple Watch is the manifestation of this grand vision and impact.
Jobs’ health struggles left strong impressions on the Apple leadership team, and even by 2010, Apple’s executives began plotting a course in which Apple would make health, wellness, and fitness one of the cornerstones of their future product strategies.
The first Apple Watch and the original positioning did not have the same emphasis on health as it does today. When the Apple Watch first came to market, the emphasis on fitness was not that noticeable. In fact, they put more of a focus on it as a piece of jewelry. I sometimes wonder if Apple felt the need to downplay the health angle in version one, not knowing how attractive the value proposition would be. If you recall, Apple’s three pillars at the launch were time, communication, and health and fitness. On the latter, Tim Cook called it a “comprehensive health and fitness device” at launch, and of those three pillars, Watch’s emphasis has truly skewed toward health and fitness.
I’m certain, from day one, Apple has had a long list of sensors on the roadmap that would eventually make it to Apple Watch. Over the evolution of various Apple Watch models, the sensors Apple has added have an emphasis on heart health (HR, ECG), wellness (breathing, sleep), and fitness tracking. With Apple Watch 6, they now add a Blood Oxygen sensor. One important note about this Oximeter, which is this blood sensor’s official name, is that this version is for fitness only and not FDA approved, so it can not be used as a diagnostic tool. However, a continuous pulse oximeter has its value in a wide variety of use cases.
While the Apple blood oxygen sensor may not be approved for specific diagnostic tools that could be used to detect COVID-19 systems and other health ailments tied to lung and breathing functions, it is still a valuable tool for fitness tracking. For example, Mountain climbers use it at various elevations to measure their oxygen levels. Distance runners use if for the same reason. And even weekend joggers, sports enthusiasts will find it helps them determine their oxygen levels, especially when they are tired or exhausted from their workouts. Interestingly even people with Asthma, COPD, sleep apnea, and a range of other common conditions will find value in a pulse oximeter on their wrist.
I suspect that Apple has requested FDA approval for this blood sensor, but as a Dr., I spoke with told me yesterday, that type of approval takes time and most likely was not approved yet, so Apple launched this oximeter feature with its focus on fitness first.
The fact that Apple had made health, wellness, and fitness a prime part of their business strategy was driven home to me when our team was invited to visit their off-campus fitness lab two years ago. There we saw medical-grade testing equipment that is used to help Apple design, and over time, fine-tune the iPhone and Apple Watch fitness tracking programs. This is a world-class fitness and health testing lab and contributes greatly to their ability to develop these high-level fitness programs tied to their various devices and services.
In the next two years, I expect Apple to bring two new sensors and features to the Apple Watch. One will be some type of way to measure blood pressure, and the other will be a way to measure blood sugar, a needed tool for diabetics. And of course, using their state of the art fitness lab will continue to fine-tuning their current sensors to make them even more accurate and useful over time.
I understand that adding fitness and health is a good business opportunity and has helped them make the Apple Watch the #1 watch in the world. However, be clear that its existence is based on Apple’s leadership’s desire to honor Steve Jobs and his legacy. It is also to carry out Steve’s Jobs’ own challenge to others to take care of their health and to stay well, one of his last admonishments to those he worked with and was close to at the end.