According to insider accounts, the inaugural Apple Watch was slated to feature non-invasive blood sugar monitoring as its standout function. This advanced health capability was not just an added perk but the main selling point at the conception stage.
The report further unveils internal conflicts at Apple, centered on the direction of its health technology initiatives. A faction within the company has been vocal about the need to shift focus from servicing the “worried well”—those who are healthy but concerned about their wellbeing—to aiding individuals with pressing health technology needs.
In compiling this information, Bloomberg drew on conversations with individuals close to Apple. These discussions shed light on the discrepancies between Apple’s lofty health tech goals and the actual advancements it has managed to roll out.
Moreover, the report exposes a deeper, more ideological divide among Apple’s executives regarding the scope and scale of the company’s health-related aspirations.
The unveiling of the Apple Watch in 2015 marked a pivotal moment, but it was initially unclear which consumer need it was addressing. Apple seemed to prioritize notifications on the wrist as the principal feature. However, as time passed, the focus shifted decidedly towards health and fitness functionalities. This pivot suggested a change in strategy, yet reports indicate that health functionalities were always the intended cornerstone; the technology for comprehensive health tracking simply wasn’t ready for the first release.
In an auditorium resonant with the legacy of Steve Jobs, where the original Macintosh had been revealed years prior, Tim Cook presented the Apple Watch. He heralded it as the dawn of a new era for the company. The device launched with health-oriented features, including a heart rate monitor, step counter, calorie tracker, and a fitness app to monitor physical activity. Despite these advancements, Apple’s ambitions were initially much higher. The goal was to transform the watch into a compact health laboratory, with the Avolonte glucose monitoring system as its flagship technology.
Four years before the first Apple Watch hit the market, Apple had discreetly established Avolonte, a dedicated subsidiary focused on developing non-invasive glucose monitoring technologies.
This project, however, did not progress as hoped, leading to a recalibration of goals by Apple’s top executives, as reported. The company’s mission to integrate health monitoring and disease prevention into its flagship devices has seen some success. Yet, this journey has been hindered by internal philosophical debates, a tendency towards caution, and the hard limits of current technology. Consequently, Apple has either delayed or discontinued several ambitious health-related initiatives, much to the dismay of the specialized staff it recruited for these projects.
Apple’s strategy shifted to prioritize the needs of the “worried well” — a demographic that, while generally healthy, is driven by health-related anxieties to seek out wellness technology.
The company is still actively pursuing the addition of blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring to its smartwatch. However, the scope is now more modest. The current aim is not to deliver precise readings that those with medical conditions might rely on, but to highlight trends that could encourage users to seek professional medical evaluation.
The hesitancy to fully engage with medical technology in Apple’s products is, to some extent, attributed to a fear of stringent regulatory scrutiny. Medical technologies often undergo prolonged approval processes, and Apple is keen to avoid such delays. An insider attributes this caution not only to regulatory concerns but also to an aversion to failure, which could tarnish Apple’s reputation.
This sentiment was captured in an anonymous comment pointing to the apprehensions of CEO Tim Cook and COO Jeff Williams, the latter of whom oversees Apple’s health initiatives. They were described as being extremely cautious, prioritizing the protection of the company’s image above all.
Meanwhile, an outside health executive emphasized that if Apple truly wants to make a significant impact in healthcare—a goal professed by Tim Cook—then it must rise to meet these formidable challenges.
Adrian Aoun, CEO and founder of Forward, which operates a network of high-tech health clinics, criticized Apple’s approach. While acknowledging the excellence of Apple’s technology, he suggested that the company is avoiding the true complexities of healthcare. Aoun stressed that to make a substantial difference, a company must engage directly with the intricacies and ‘messy’ realities of healthcare, which might involve literal and metaphorical ‘drawing of blood.’
While the article presents insightful perspectives, it’s important to note that access to the full content is behind a paywall.