Friday, June 6, 2014

Apple will redefine Healthcare & make Billions - here is how...

If you are from the technology world and have not been sleeping under a rock for the past decade, then you would have regardless heard that Apple kicked off their WWDC conference yesterday. A highlight of the conference is their keynote which tech enthusiasts from all camps follow with a frentic pace - after all, Apple is known for releasing really cool gadgets that all of us can geek out at; Apple definitely did that yesterday. There are numerous blog posts out there that would do better justice to that topic that I could. I want to focus on an announcement yesterday that, while on surface looks like just another cool "app" but which has the potential to fundamentally change our lives - again. The app is called "Health". I will explain how I see Apple and other tech companies disrupting healthcare, and how the wearable world will indeed become a reality.

The Wearables Industry is Disjointed
"Wearables" have been the buzz word in the technology circles for the past couple of years. From the likes of Fitbit and Nike Band to numerous pedometer apps for both iOS and Android to more serious medical condition monitoring services like blood sugar and blood pressure - there is no lack of devices that try to position themselves as THE best device to be worn. Even Samsung came out with the Samsung Gear with health apps built-in. So why do I believe that Apple, seemingly late to the party, will disrupt healthcare and make wearables mainstream?

The wearables market faces two problems today:
  1. The tools, trackers & apps are mostly different and
  2. Most of the wearables merely track
Tools, Trackers and Apps Galore
Lets take a look at this further in a real-life scenario:
Lets say that a person has a blood pressure condition and has to ensure that their pressure is maintained at a certain prescribed level. The doctor has also advised the person to get atleast 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise, and ensure they sleep atleast 8 hours at night. The ideal answer for the person would be that there is one device that they can buy that can monitor all of these different conditions -- however, the more likely scenario is that person will end up acquiring one or two devices to monitor all of the different conditions. Now, instead of being able to use one company's app to monitor all conditions, the user has to rely on two different company apps or as we see now for both iOS and Android, apps that consolidate information from different devices. One example is myFitnessPal. So you could say that this problem has already been solved. Agreed. But this is only half the problem - the other half is the more critical piece of the puzzle - not just tracking, but actually providing diagnosis and/or treatment

Not merely Tracking, but Diagnosing & Treating
The other issue that the wearables market faces is that while there is enormous amounts of data that is collected per human being, it remains on their smartphone and never goes anywhere except for bragging rights with friends and family - "Look at how many steps I took today" or "See honey, I have been maintaining my blood sugar even though I had the Creme Brulee". From a purely medical perspective, the treasure trove of data that is available through these different wearables is mind-boggling. Collectively these data points will give a lot of insight into the health of our community as a whole, but even from an individual perspective, the constant automatic monitoring of our health can give a doctor a lot of great information that they can use to keep us in great health. But until WWDC 2014, there was not an effective way to do this. All of that changed when Apple announced the Health App and the HealthKit

The Health App - why is it key to Apple's long term growth?

From my perspective, Apple should/would/probably has one and only one goal - that is to equip every single person in this world with an iOS device. But this is a lofty goal. To achieve this goal, they have to find areas that are indispensable to us as human beings. Music is dispensable. Videos and games are dispensable. The smartphone is dispensable. However, our health is indispensable. And Apple saw an opportunity here - while there are several gadgets to track vitals - there was no infrastructure that helped connect them together and more importantly, no system for doctors to monitor the data collected by these gadgets and provide real-time diagnosis/treatment.

The Health app does exactly that. Not only does it provide a common, single interface to connect all of your wearable devices, it is able to provide this data with various levels of built-in privacy to doctors and nurses who in turn can monitor your every action and habit (nope that creme brulee will trigger a call from your doc, so don't do it)

Lets go back to the previous example: Now the person can still buy different wearable devices, but they can all be monitored from one application, and in turn, if you authorize your clinic, your vitals or conditions can be tracked and appropriate treatment or actions be taken immediately without waiting for a visit to the docs office.

This is revolutionary.
Consider a more extreme case - a 60+ year old person who is in danger of stroke doesn't have to worry about trying to alert someone if something fatal were to happen to them. An app such as the Health App can automatically detect signs and alert the nearby ambulance service (I'm envisioning a cloud enabled service for a small fee that would connect emergency services and those requiring it). The possibilities are endless.

The Health App - A Precursor to the Apple Smartwatch?
The Health App also virtually guarantees one other development from Apple soon - a smartwatch. You see, it doesn't make sense for Apple to release the smartwatch just as a fancy watch to run your apps from. I suspect that the Apple smartwatch would most definitely have physiological sensors built into them and now with the Health App, Apple has the infrastructure to support it. Going back to my original statement about what I think Apple's goals are - to equip all of us with an iOS device - they want to insert themselves into areas where their device would be indispensable and we can all agree that a device that monitors our key vitals, that is connected to the healthcare system, that is smart looking (it is Apple) would be one that would be wanted by quite a few of us. But if Apple had released the smartwatch before the Health App, we would have said that its yet another device that we have to shell out precious $$ for.

From my product marketing/management perspective - this is a smart and critical strategic move that puts Apple ahead of the game of everyone else for a couple of years. So can others catch up?

What about Google & others?
This is what excites me the most about the announcement yesterday - if my assumptions are correct, Apple has a slight and I mean a very slight advantage in getting a firm hold on the wearables market, but Google and other companies will catch up and probably introduce several different innovations of their own. Google Glass has already shown a lot of promise from the medical perspective.

So who wins?
Yes - Apple and Google will make billions from this venture but the ultimate winner in this area is the consumer. There has never been a more exciting time for us as consumers especially from our health perspective. Developments such as wearables, the Health App, Google glass and others will eventually bring down costs for health care - and yes, in the process we will happily and lovingly give the Apples, the Googles, the Fitbits and the Nikes our hard earned $$ - after all, we have one life to live and everyone wants to live a healthy one.

Written by  in LinkedIn

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