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Apple’s march toward personal wellness tracking and what it could mean for M2M

by Peter West

Given the consistent rise in M2M, telehealth and telemedicine over the past 12-18 months (healthcare continues to account for the majority of net new devices coming onto the KORE network), the sheer magnitude of the “connected health” market carries a good amount of weight within our overall business strategy. It should come as no surprise, likewise, that arguably the largest personal device maker, Apple, is moving to position itself in this market heavily as well. 

According to a recent Reuters story, Apple has been hiring medical technology executives by the bushel, ostensibly to corner the budding market for bio-sensing devices.

Even as we are on the record to make an important distinction between personal wellness applications and true telehealth, it will be informative to take a closer look at the business Apple intends to build and support. To be sure, wellness management is more about fulfilling a certain “curiosity” aspect of the human condition and telehealth is about establishing a vital link between patient and doctor for critical care or quality of life purposes. Almost by definition, most anything Apple touches would be classified as the former.

According to the Reuters report, Apple’s moves “telegraph a vision of monitoring everything from blood-sugar levels to nutrition, [moving] beyond the fitness-oriented devices now on the market.” What’s more interesting, however, is that Apple is taking its tried and true Appstore approach to all this, where it will open the store to a full suite of health and fitness services. This is a powerful concept, with potentially staggering economic benefits, especially when considered in light of the success of say, gaming on the Appstore platform. Enabling so many startups to likewise develop new software and hardware for mobile medical applications could really push the innovation and job creation envelopes.

But medicine is much different than entertainment or personal organization (which, by-and-large, together constitute the majority of Appstore apps), and to our minds there are several questions that linger in evaluating this anticipated move by Apple.

  1. Is there a sustainable business in fulfilling health-related curiosity? Will people really maintain a desire to know momentary changes over time?
  2. If not, will ebbs in interest flow into renewed curiosity down the road, enough to promote return engagement with the apps? Will people come back to these apps, even after their initial enthusiasm has waned? Or, will these apps more consistently find their way to the back, unused page on our devices.
  3. Can Apple bridge the gap between entertainment and medicine? In other words, will developments in the personal wellness model come to be integrated into more robust telehealth applications? Will doctors and patients be able to yield control of life-or-death measurements to an iPhone or iPad?
  4. (We’d expect doctors to be a tougher nut to crack in this regard).
It absolutely makes sense for Apple to pursue this market given initial success of the Fitbit. We just hope management is genuinely vetting the strategy and is not just responding, perhaps over-eagerly, to executive pressures to create new product categories this year. If a company the size of Apple tries and fails in the medical market, where it has no historical foothold, we could be in for a dreadful turn southward in confidence in the wider move to m-health. And that is not a reality any of us want.