Regardless of whether iPhones sales are flat, much of the excitement and loyalty that’s made Apple into a behemoth tech company comes directly from its products, so meticulously designed and engineered to be irresistible. Apple is a devices company and its lifeblood (and stock) depends on new products to dazzle.
But Apple under CEO Tim Cook isn’t the same company it was under Steve Jobs. Where Jobs was an expert showman, basking in the glory of his own “reality distortion field” and the purity Apple’s products, Cook wields a more holistic approach when it comes to the company’s hardware, software, and mission.
New iPhones, iPads, and Macs will no doubt still incite rabid fanboyism, but buying an Apple device is becoming increasingly more than just about choosing a platform or brand. Cook’s made it clear Apple’s mission is to create hardware, software, and services that democratize complicated technologies and processes in a bid to empower users to not just do more but live healthier lives.
“What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?, it will be about health,” Cook recently said in an interview with CNBC. “We’re democratizing it. We’re taking what has been with the institutions and empowering the individual to manage their health.”
As a health fanatic himself, it’s not surprising at all Cook sees significant opportunities where Apple can marry its consumer products and software with health services.
Apple started on this crusade with the Health app on iOS and in recent years has made monitoring health data core to the Apple Watch.
The latest Apple Watch Series 4 is the company’s first real device that embodies Apple and Cook’s health-oriented road map.
As we wrote in our review and software update follow-ups, the Apple Watch has expanded beyond its fitness-tracking and basic heart rate-monitoring features.
With Series 4, it’s a bonafide “intelligent guardian for your health” as Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams called it during its introduction. The latest Apple Watch can detect if you’ve fallen, provide an ECG reading, and notify you of irregular heart rhythms.
These features already make the Apple Watch a powerful smartwatch that stands in a class of its own compared to wearables by companies like Samsung, Fossil, or Fitbit.
And starting in spring 2019, Apple’s entrenching itself even deeper into the health world via the Apple Watch with a partnership with American healthcare company Aetna. The two companies first started working together in 2016 on health-related initiatives.
Personalization is crucial to health monitoring
Over a year in the making, Aetna will launch a new iOS app called Attain that provides highly personalized health awareness tracking and recommendations. The app will combine personal health information with data collected by an Apple Watch.
In addition to receiving more tailored health information such as personalized activity goals, weekly challenges, and more relevant notifications at key moments (i.e. users might get a notification if there’s a flu outbreak in their specific area), Aetna users who opt in to use the Attain app have the opportunity to defray the cost of an Apple Watch by completing their health and activity goals.
If users don’t want to put their rewards towards their Apple Watch, they can also earn rewards redeemable for gift cards at select national retailers.
It’s a hell of an incentive to earn an Apple Watch. But the primary goal isn’t merely to gamify the cost of an Apple Watch (though that’s certainly nice). The ultimate intent is to get people to take better care of themselves and to maintain this improved level of health.
On the one hand, technology — especially the devices Apple has brought into the world — is revolutionary and has impacted all facets of life. Technology has made complicated and often expensive functions and tasks affordable and convenient.
“It’s no easy feat for a tech company to tackle an industry so paramount to humanity, but at least Apple’s trying.”
However, all of the convenience technology has given us hasn’t necessarily made everyday life less stressful. In many ways, technology addiction has made our lives more complicated. We’re all seemingly doing more, and yet somehow seem to have less time, as a result often indirectly hurting our health in subtle, but long-lasting ways.
The Attain app has been designed to shift health control back to the user. The app’s “direct-to-member,” meaning a user’s employer doesn’t need to pay to provide it if somebody wants to use it.
In general, health apps by healthcare companies aren’t especially showstoppers. What sets the Attain app apart from others is the design collaboration between Aetna and Apple.
With help from Apple, the Attain app’s been designed to be simple in aesthetic and functionality. The collected data is presented in a visual format that doesn’t overwhelm, and often difficult-to-understand health terminologies and conditions are explained in plain English as opposed to jargon-laden language.
Privacy is core, not an afterthought
Arguably more important than the easy-to-understand app is how Apple and Aetna are committed to customer privacy.
Whereas some other companies tend to obfuscate how collected data is used, the Attain app was designed with privacy protections from the start, I’m told by Aetna and Apple executives who worked on the app.
First, Aetna isn’t mandating its customers use the Attain app. Second, the two companies assured me all data collected by the Attain app is stored separately from Aetna user’s health history. By storing the Attain data in a separate HIPAA-compliant server, there is no way to associate it with any user identities.
This strict Attain data separation also means it can’t be used by Aetna for underwriting, pricing, or influencing coverage decisions. Additionally, Attain data isn’t shared with employers and the data itself isn’t ever sold.
Privacy is so important to building trust in the health space that Apple is going as far as disclosing its Business Associate Agreement (BAA) between itself and Aetna. Companies don’t typically disclose any BAAs, so it’s kind of a big deal that Apple and Aetna are being so transparent.
Similarly, sharing Attain data with Apple is opt-in. If a user chooses to share their data with Apple, it is again stored separately in a server that’s encrypted in transit and at rest. It’s also coded to not be identifiable in any form. Apple tells me any shared data will only be used to understand the efficacy of the program. Considering Cook’s serious stance on privacy, expect it to be a pillar to everything Apple does in the future.
Healthcare isn’t sexy, but it’s so important
The Attain app’s success or failure will likely play an integral role in how the company tackles future health initiatives.
When the app launches this spring, it’ll be limited to the first 250,000 to 350,000 sign-ups. The program will scale and expand accordingly based on the feedback received from the first batch of participants.
Cook’s outlook on where Apple can intersect with health is nothing if not extremely optimistic. Apple’s strategic moves with Apple Watch and working with healthcare companies is a major step forward in demystifying health and making it a conscious daily aspect of living in such an interconnected world.
Healthcare sure as hell isn’t sexy to talk about and it’s no easy feat for a tech company to tackle an industry so paramount to humanity, but at least Apple’s trying.