So, the much-anticipated Apple Watch has arrived.
The tech world is still digesting Apple’s big announcement. Some believe Apple’s watch is the Second Coming. Others are disappointed that it does not look cooler. Left-handed people are up in arms that the device is not designed to be worn on the right hand.
My opinion: plenty of people will buy the Apple Watch and it will dramatically improve over time. Apple’s great at getting people to desire its devices (remember what they said about the iPad?) and does a good job of tweaking its designs.
Design Critiques Aside, Are We Focusing Enough on the Bigger Picture Beyond the Device?
But, I’ve always maintained that focusing on form factor, pre-loaded applications and other surface features of Apple’s devices obscures the larger strategic reality. Apple is playing the long game and working to develop a device-software-data ecosystem that will keep its products relevant and necessary over the long-term. As others have noted, Apple’s foray into health illustrates how it is playing the long game quite clearly. (I’ll talk more about this in a bit.)
One need only look to the entertainment industry and the evolution of the iPhone software ecosystem to understand what Apple is trying to achieve. In music, Apple developed (for a time) a digital ecosystem that was second-to-none. In order to experience hassle-free music downloads, access the latest music on-demand and more you needed to have an iPod (and later the iPhone). Apple’s products went from nice-to-have to essential.
One of the reasons the iPhone did so well was Apple’s decision to open up the app development process to third parties. Inventive innovators developed applications that filled in the gaps in terms of functionality that many complained about when the iPhone and iPad were first introduced. Want a certain feature? There’s an app for that.
What Are the Key Health-Related Questions We Need to Answer About the Apple Watch?
Now, let’s look at what Apple is doing in health. Earlier today, I sent a somewhat breathless message to people on my email list announcing the Apple Watch. I received a number of responses to my message.
Some people wondered whether Apple would be able to solve the consumer engagement issue associated with many wearable devices. Earlier this year, Endeavour Partners put together a now-famous white paper that outlined how most people stop using wearable devices, trackers and other tools after an initial honeymoon period. So, the engagement issue is a big one.
But one of Apple’s strengths is its demonstrated ability to develop partnerships and tap into a vast and talented developer ecosystem that makes its devices more useful and relevant without the company having to invest in a large amount of R&D. In time, people will develop digital health applications that do a great job of harnessing the strengths of the Apple Watch while minimizing its drawbacks (and making it more sticky).
Other people contacted me to take aim at the digital divide — especially the fact that the Apple Watch is expensive. Well, only time will tell whether Apple will shift its pricing strategy. But, it’s done a good job of working with carriers and incentivising them to subsidize the iPhone, which has helped it reach people across economic segments. In addition, Apple is partnering with a range of health insurance firms, hospitals and others. I have to imagine that part of the reason for this activity is to encourage these powerful players to subsidize the cost of the Apple Watch and other tools — especially if they (or the software running on them) can be proven to help improve health outcomes and boost consumer engagement with their health.
The Elephant in the Room: Will Health Consumers Use a Wearable Like the Apple Watch?
The most pressing issue, however, is the adoption question. This goes beyond economics. If consumers decide the device is not very useful or adds anything to their lifestyle that will merit its long-term use, the Apple Watch is doomed. Companies like Pebble have succeeded in creating a long-term user base. Samsung and Google have already introduced watches that have gained limited traction. The jury is still out as to whether the Apple Watch will go much beyond power users.
From a digital health perspective, there’s evidence that some groups of consumers, including people with heart disease are not very interested in connected health devices, as this essay by Mark Bard of the Digital Insights Group suggests. But, it’s worth repeating that the issue of adoption may come down to a simple question: are these devices useful? Frankly, many current wearables are less then useful and require a lot of work and mental energy to optimize. (This is changing, however as this report [available via subscription] suggests.)
Yet, there is certainly a strong willingness among the most digitally active health consumers to use wearables, as our research suggests. These are ePatients or people who regularly use digital tools (i.e., Web, social media) for health.
Below is a chart illustrating some of our ePatient data.
We asked ePatients to tell us whether they would be willing to use a wearable device with the ability to track and monitor their health status. A slight majority of all ePatients said they would be very willing to use these devices. In addition, I looked at our data by socioeconomic status and found something interesting. Interest was greatest among the most affluent, but remained relatively strong across income groups. For example (as shown above) about 49% making between $31,000 and $40,000 annually were willing to use this type of device.
Related: Rise of the ePatient Movement
Now the question remains: would they be willing to use an Apple Watch? I’m not sure. But, this data does suggest that — for the company that gets wearables right — there is a significant opportunity in health.
The Bottom Line: Only Time Will Tell if the Apple Watch is a Hit, or Flop
Recent news reports make it clear that Apple is doing its best to develop a suite of indispensable products (in health and beyond), partnerships that will help it make its health data useful and relevant to medical professionals and learning the regulatory ropes. But, only time will tell whether the Apple Watch will be successful or a rare (for Apple) flop.
What’s clear is that the wearables arena is continuing to evolve, especially in health. For those willing and able to get it right, the rewards are potentially massive.
Fard Johnmar is a digital health futurist, researcher and co-author of the #1 bestselling book, ePatient 2015: 15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care. He is also founder of Enspektos, LLC, a globally respected innovation consultancy providing original research, strategy, analytics and more to health executives, organizations and others.
Take your digital health knowledge to the next level by enrolling in a unique and free 5-part email course. You’ll receive little-known, but vital insights, original research and analysis that’s critical to your success. Click here to learn more and enroll.