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Apple Watch Marks the “End of the Beginning” for Wearable Devices and Consumer Healthcare

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With “just one more thing…”, this week Apple changed the world a little – again. Tim Cook’s reveal of the first Apple Watch was a pivotal moment for wearable technology. While early wearable device manufacturers have been navigating the uncharted landscape of this emerging market for several years, Apple has remained true to their core principles: to value what actually matters over being first to market; to avoid being distracted by the new; and, focusing on the “significance of a whole new take”. To date wearable technologies have offered great promise, but have remained on the periphery of healthcare. The Apple Watch could define how we will manage our own health and health care with the support of wearable technology.

This marks the “end of the beginning” for wearable technologies and consumer health. And the future is exciting. Let’s connect the dots between the current Apple ecosystem and Apple Pay (also announced this week) and Apple Watch to flesh out some of the potential. In the foreseeable future, Apple, and others who mimic them, will have a comprehensive understanding of what we do inside and outside of our homes. They will know how we spend our money and how we spend our time; from the food we buy to the steps we take to burn the calories we bought; from how long we drive our cars to how frequently we stand up from our desks; from the movies we watch to the music we enjoy; from who we meet and interact with to how our heart actually beats when we’re with them. That is incredibly intimate, frightening, and bursting with potential to nudge our lives toward better health and wellness.

Imagine this scenario from ‘sometime in the not-to-distant future’. You enter a fast food establishment and your Apple Watch suggests the healthy options. You ignore the suggestion and use Apple Pay to buy the bagel you were craving. Apple Watch taps your wrist and suggests you share the bagel with the person you’re with. Apple Watch reminds you that they have already done more steps than you today so they can handle it. Later that day as you’re parking your car, Apple Watch suggests you park at the back of the lot to log a few extra steps to help burn off that bagel. As you’re entering the building for your meeting, Apple Watch reminds you to take a few deep breaths because you typically get stressed when you meet this person. After the meeting, as you get back in your car, Apple Watch recommends the new song you’ve been listening to lately because it lowers your heart rate. Does this seem unbelievable to you? This scenario moved a little closer to reality this week.

In the meantime, back here in the present, there are solutions available that enable personal health coaches to economically provide this kind of continuous wellness support to people living with chronic disease today (e.g. NexJ Connected Wellness). Tim Cook didn’t mention chronic disease once in his presentation. In fact, his key messages were that Apple Watch will help people who would “like to be little more active” as well as “serious athletes”. There didn’t seem to be a model over the age of 40 in the videos. Here are three potential reasons: Apple’s goal is to provide the foundation for third parties to develop these apps; they probably didn’t want to emphasize health data after their recent iCloud security breaches; and third, it would have diluted the message in an already packed keynote.

Yet Apple Watch could significantly help reduce the cost of managing chronic diseases. Chronic disease accounts for approximately 80 percent of health spending in most developed jurisdictions and the baby boomers are just starting their high healthcare needs years. This is the greatest challenge facing healthcare today. Outcomes for people with the most common chronic diseases like cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and diabetes can be improved with increased activity, improved diets and better medication adherence. These behaviours also reduce costs. The Apple Watch’s ability to track activity and heart rate as well as the potential for tracking food and medication adherence could help people self-manage these diseases more effectively – as long as this data capture is accompanied with the support available from personal health coaching.

Regardless, remember that we’re just now at “a compelling beginning of actually designing technology to be worn”. This is how Apple’s Head of Design, Jonathan Ives described the significance of Apple Watch. He was echoing comments from one of his only in-depth interviews published earlier this year “We are at the beginning of a remarkable time, when a remarkable number of products will be developed. When you think about technology and what it has enabled us to do so far, and what it will enable us to do in future, we’re not even close to any kind of limit. It’s still so, so new.”