By Christina Farr
Apple has grand ambitions to move into the health care field. The company’s CEO Tim Cook once referred to health as the company’s “greatest contribution to mankind.”
In the last five years or so, the company has built up a big internal team staffed with doctors, health coaches, and engineers. It has developed health-focused software and hardware, and even started medical clinics for its own employees.
But with a concrete strategy and a biomedical breakthrough, such as non-invasive blood pressure or blood sugar monitoring, it could do a lot more. Ahead of its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) next week, here’s what people in the health and technology sector think of Apple’s influence and achievements so far — and where it needs to go next.
What it’s done so far
Apple has a slew of products and services in health care.
Its primary product is the Apple Watch, and health is both a major use case and selling point. Its smartwatch device offers activity tracking, heart rate monitoring, an electrocardiogram to detect irregularities with the heart’s rhythm, fall detection alerts, integrations with third-party health apps, and more.
The Apple Watch has other benefits, but overall, “the greatest use case for Apple Watch still remains health,” said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies specializing in consumer technology.
Henrik Berggren, founder of a diabetes-focused virtual medical clinic called Steady Health, said the Apple Watch is most helpful when it comes to tracking exercise and incorporating data from existing blood-sugar tracking devices. Many of Steady Health’s patients already have Apple Watches or iPhones, and the group will look at that data in addition to their blood glucose levels and eating habits. “That exercise part they’re doing quite well today,” he says.
Beyond the Watch, vice president of technology Kevin Lynch is working to let customers bring medical information, including lab results and medical history, to their iPhones. That software, known as Apple Health Records, is continuing to make strides, but is still held back by the fact that consumers have to remember which doctors and hospitals they’ve been to in recent years and log into those systems separately.
The company has also developed software kits for third-party developers to build health applications. Among the most widely used is ResearchKit, which helps academics recruit people to their clinical trials via mobile devices.
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In late 2018, Apple Inc. was a few years into its plan to build a powerful headset with both virtual- and augmented-reality capabilities when things shifted dramatically. Jony Ive, then the company’s design chief, objected to some fundamental aspects of the product and urged Apple to change course.
The headset was to be the first major launch from the company since the Apple Watch and the debut device from the Technology Development Group, a secretive unit devoted to VR and AR. The TDG is led by an equally under-the-radar executive, Mike Rockwell. After stints at Dolby Laboratories Inc. and media-editing software company Avid Technology Inc., Rockwell, 53, was hired in 2015 by Dan Riccio, Apple’s top hardware executive. At first his role was loosely defined, according to interviews with current and former employees who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.
Representatives for Apple and Ive declined to comment, and the company didn’t make Rockwell available for an interview.