Exploring what an Apple medical gadget might entail

Apple isn’t interested in transforming the Apple Watch into the ultimate health monitoring device, but the company is open to creating an entirely different product that would.

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, chief exec Tim Cook hinted at future involvement from Apple in health, but cited federal regulation processes as a reason it wouldn’t do so via its smartwatch. He did, however, talk about the possibility of an adjacent product (a gadget or app) that could have a serious impact on the health care industry — because, of course, Apple’s involvement tends to result in a pretty serious impact on every industry it touches.

While he gave few specifics, there are a few key factors surround FDA approval and technology in the health care sector that might help suss out what Apple has in mind. I caught up with Venkat Rajan, a health care analyst with market research firm Frost & Sullivan to clarify a few things about health care tech, FDA testing and Apple’s place in the medical arena.

“To be clear in terms of definition,” says Rajan, “the FDA doesn’t dictate how a doctor can use a device as much as it dictates how you market what the device says it does.”

He gives the example of hearing aids versus sound amplifiers — two devices that do essentially the same thing and function in much the same way, but are marketed differently. Hearing aids are positioned as a treatment for hearing impairment and, as such, typically come from audiologists.

Sound amplifiers, by way of contrast, aren’t marketed as treatment devices. Because of this distinction, this class of device isn’t subjected to the scrutiny and regulation of the FDA and, as a result the product reaches the market and the consumers much more quickly.

So where does that leave Apple? Cook made it clear that they’re not going to chase down FDA approval for Apple Watch, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the company will leave a potentially lucrative market untapped — nothing would be more unlike Apple.

“The real opportunities for Apple are something adjacent to the Watch and that probably means some type of peripheral, wearable-type technology,” Rajan says. “There are a lot of different potential wearables out there that are being explore and so it remains to be seen if Apple has a specific type of patient or disease profile in mind.”

There are already FDA-approved apps and peripherals that are available for use with Apple Watch, though the watch itself is not FDA-approved. Apple Watch’s current role in the health and medical arena is as a conduit for health-related data and communications for those who work in health care. Its role isn’t particularly different from that of a smartphone or tablet though it is, perhaps, much more portable.

While its health data collection and activity tracking work well for personal use, the lack of FDA-approval means that the data from Apple Watch isn’t particularly useful for doctors looking to treat patients and track their progress, which is a key element of wearable technology in the medical space. The future of powerful medical technology for consumers will likely revolve around the degree to which doctors and patients can trust the data gathered by their devices.

“A lot of these devices do a good job of tracking information,” Rajan says. “But I think it is taking a lot of the types of information — whether it’s heart rate or activity or blood sugar sensing — and taking it a level deeper, [such as] being able to collect medical-grade data that an insurance company, hospital, or physician could take a look at and make decisions around.”

What Apple Watch does, in Tim Cook’s own words

On Monday, Apple will officially launch the Apple Watch, its first completely new product since the iPad was introduced in 2010 as well as its first major launch under CEO Tim Cook. Gigaom will be covering what Apple has in store live from the Yerba Buena Center on Monday.

But Apple actually introduced us to the Apple Watch back in September, and since then, Cook has spoken about the smartwatch several times in public. When he gets on stage in San Francisco on Monday to introduce Apple’s “most personal device ever,” some of what he’s going to cover will be new, and some of it he will have said prior, during the past six months as he’s been honing his Apple Watch pitch.

Here’s what to expect from Apple Watch, from Tim Cook, the boss of Apple himself (read it in a smooth-as-molasses southern drawl.)

On features

Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I use mine to control my Apple TV. Another member of the team loves to use theirs as a viewfinder for their iPhone camera. Still another loves the walkie-talkie ability.

 iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

And so I constantly use Siri with my watch, and ask different things, and all of a sudden, y’know, it’s just there. You can do things like get notifications across your watch.

And if you’re interested in keeping up with the sports score to the financial markets to whatever it is, it’s like this, the Watch knows you’re looking at it, and it comes on. If I’m not looking at it, the Watch is off.

I sit for too long, it will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up and move. Because a lot of doctors believe that sitting is the new cancer, right? And arguably activity is good for all of us. And so if you haven’t moved within the hour, ten minutes before the hour it’ll tap you. 

And I think one of the biggest surprises people are going to have when they start using it is the breadth of what it will do.

Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, February 2015

And so with a Bluetooth headset, you can run and listen to your music without your iPhone.

Interview with Charlie Rose, September 2014

You can make a call from the Watch… You can interface with Siri. Siri with this point comes back in a textual mode, but we’d like to do something different with that over time. But it’s cool for all of us, but I think it is going to be profound for some people.

Comments at Berlin Apple Store, reported by 9to5Mac, February 2015

The watch is designed to be able to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used by many vehicles, Cook told The Telegraph.

Reported by The TelegraphFebruary 2015

On accuracy

We set out to make the best watch in the world, one that is precise, it’s synchronized with the universal time standard and it’s accurate within plus or minus 50 milliseconds.

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

On needing an iPhone

It requires an iPhone, yes, because they’ve been designed to work together… however, if you go for a run, and you don’t want to carry your iPhone, music is also in your watch.

Interview with Charlie Rose, September 2014

Apple Watch requires the iPhone because it’s been designed to seamlessly work together, like with Handoff where you might read an email on your watch and then respond to it on the iPhone, the email appears right in the lock screen of your iPhone.

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

On health and fitness 

apple-watch-self-magazine

So if you’re just someone who wants to be a bit more active, or maybe you just want to track what you’re doing during the day, or perhaps you exercise regularly, or even if you are a very serious athlete, Apple Watch helps you live a better day.

We have two new applications in Apple Watch. The first is the fitness app. The fitness app monitors all of your activity and movement throughout the day. And the second is the workout app. The workout app allows you to set specific goals for specific types of workouts, like cycling or running.

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

So this is yet another way to begin to build a comprehensive view of your life, which should empower you to take care of yourself over time, and when you need help, it empowers you to take certain data to your doctor to get help from them.

Interview with Charlie Rose, September 2014

Apple Watch… also includes comprehensive health and fitness apps that can help people lead healthier lives.

Internal memo, September 2014

I use it in the gym constantly to track my activity level, my exercise, how long I’m exercising.

Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, February 2015

On charging

Photo by Tom Krazit/Gigaom

Photo by Tom Krazit/Gigaom

We’re using inductive charging, it has a magnet and it aligns perfectly to the back of the watch, it is so simple and elegant. 

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

We think people are going to use it so much you will end up charging it daily.

Interview at Wall Street Journal conference, October 2014

On how Apple Watch is like the iPod

If you think about the, for those of you can remember, the MP3 industry, before the iPod — we weren’t the first company to make an MP3…. And so I see the smartwatch category very much like that. There are several things that are called “smartwatches” that are shipping, but I’m not sure you could name any. Maybe you could. I’m not sure the audience could name very many. But certainly there’s been none that have changed the way people live their lives.

Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, February 2015

On apps

Now as we showed you last month, we have been working with selected third-party developers on Apple Watch. Like BMW, like American Airlines, like Starwood, and they’ve created some really unique personal experiences for Apple Watch.

Apple Special Event, October 2014

Developers are hard at work on apps, notifications, and information summaries that we call Glances, all designed specifically for the Watch’s user interface.

My expectations are very high on it. I’m using it every day, and loving it, and I can’t live without it. And so I see that we’re making great progress on the development of it. The number of developers that are writing apps for it are impressive and we’re seeing some incredible innovation coming out there.

Apple Q1 earnings conference call, January 2015

On why it’s not a pair of glasses

We always thought that glasses were not a smart move, from a point of view that people would not really want to wear them. They were intrusive, instead of pushing technology to the background, as we’ve always believed.

 Comments reported by the New Yorker, February 2015

On Apple Watch being Apple’s most personal device ever

Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever created.

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

The next chapter for us is about personal devices, about something that’s even more personal than what we had before. And I think the watch is a great place to start that.

Interview with Bloomberg, September 2014

And of course, we unveiled our most personal device ever with Apple Watch.

Internal memo, September 2014

The second new category [after Apple Pay] is Apple Watch, our most personal device ever

Apple Q4 earnings conference call, October 2014

Of course, I am talking about Apple Watch. It’s the most personal device we’ve ever created.

Apple special event, October 2014

In September, we gave a glimpse of the future with Apple Watch, our most personal device ever.

Internal memo, December 2014

Courtesy of Apple

Courtesy of Apple

On early sales and expectations

(Apple Watch revenue will be reported in the same category as Accessories, iPods, Apple TV, and Beats) But for now, in Q1, we’re not shipping any iPhone — excuse me, Apple Watches. And so it seems appropriate to start it that way. It also — to be also straight, is — I’m not very anxious in reporting a lot of numbers on Apple Watch, because of the — and giving a lot of detail on it because our competitors are looking for it. And so aggregating it is helpful from that point of view, as well.

Apple Q4 earnings conference call, October 2014

With things that are new, it’s not like a movie, where you can look at that first weekend and draw the line… What did the iPhone do on the first weekend? You don’t remember. Does it matter?

Interview with Bloomberg, September 2014

On price

Apple Watch starts at only $349.  

iPhone 6 keynote, September 2014

I think $349 is an incredibly low price for the value that we’re delivering.

Interview with Bloomberg, September 2014

 Tim Cook Unveils iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

Apple unveils $2B plans for Irish and Danish data centers

Apple is set to spend €1.7 billion ($1.93 billion) on two new European data centers, one in Ireland and one in Denmark.

The Galway and Jutland data centers will each measure 166,000 square meters and will, in line with Apple’s other data facilities, be powered entirely by clean, renewable energy. They are expected to go online in 2017, handling data for iTunes, the App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri.

“We’re excited to spur green industry growth in Ireland and Denmark and develop energy systems that take advantage of their strong wind resources,” [company]Apple[/company] Environmental Initiatives vice-president Lisa Jackson said in a statement. Apple CEO Tim Cook described the initiative as “Apple’s biggest project in Europe to date.”

The company said it will embark on a native tree-planting exercise to accompany the construction of its Irish data center, which will occupy land that was previously used for non-native trees. Meanwhile, excess heat from the Danish facility will be siphoned off to warm neighboring homes.

Apart from green credentials and the hundreds of jobs that will accompany the construction and operation of the new data centers, the sites will of course also help Apple keep Europeans’ data in Europe. With widespread concerns over the privacy implications of using U.S. services, particularly in the enterprise sector that Apple is so keenly courting, this is no minor factor.

If Apple ever launches a Spotify competitor, the new facilities will also prove helpful in supporting all that streaming.

The development of Apple’s new European data centers had been rumored for some time, with Eemshaven in the Netherlands (the site of a major new Google facility) also having been touted as a potential location.

Apple to spend $850M on solar energy from new solar farm in California

Apple continues to aggressively adopt solar to power its data centers. On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company plans to spend $850 million to purchase energy from a solar panel farm that is being built by First Solar in Monterey, California.

The companies called the deal the largest ever to supply clean power to a commercial user. The deal is structured as a power purchase agreement (or PPA) over 25 years, which means that Apple has agreed to buy the solar power at a fixed low rate over 25 years. At the Goldman Sachs Tech and Internet Conference, where Apple made the announcement, Cook said the deal “makes business sense” for Apple.

Apple's solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

Apple’s solar farm next to its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher Gigaom

The solar farm, called the California Flats Solar Project, will be built by solar giant First Solar on 2,900 acres, and it will have enough capacity for 280 MW. The site will use First Solar’s solar panels.

Apple will buy the power from 130 MW, and in a separate deal PG&E will buy the solar power from 150 MW. The amount of power that Apple is buying is the equivalent to power 60,000 average California homes.

Having a company, like Apple, or a utility, like PG&E, lined up to buy the power from a solar farm is an important part of getting the solar farm built. So the fact that Apple entered into the PPA with First Solar, helped First Solar get the project ready for construction.

Construction will start on the California Flats Solar Project in mid-2015 and is supposed to be finished by the end of 2016. First Solar said that the Monterey County Planning Commission has approved the project, but now it needs to be approved by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.

Cook said that the amount of solar that Apple is purchasing from the farm will be enough to provide clean power for its new campus in California, all of its other offices, all 52 retail stores in California, and its data center in the state.

Before Cook made the announcement he noted that “We know at Apple that climate change is real, and our view is the time for talk has past. The time for action is now.”

Apple has committed to use 100 percent clean energy, and over the past few years has been implementing that goal by building and financing solar farms, among other methods. At the end of 2013 I took an in-depth dive into Apple’s clean energy strategy.

Apple has built solar farms in North Carolina, one outside of Reno, Nevada, and will also use solar to power a command center data center in Arizona, announced last week. The Arizona solar farms will be built in partnership with local utility Salt River Project, and will provide 70 MW of solar power for Apple, which is enough solar energy for 14,500 Arizonan homes.

To learn more about the massive solar panel farms being built in the Southwest of the U.S., check out this special report.

Apple CEO Tim Cook officially says that he is gay

Although Apple CEO Tim Cook had hinted at his sexual orientation in the past, most notably in a speech at Auburn University in 2013, he announced that he is gay in a personal essay published in Businessweek on Thursday. “So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook wrote. Earlier this week, Cook gave an impassioned speech on racial equality and gay rights in Alabama. As the CEO of the world’s most valuable company measured by market cap, Cook is the most prominent openly gay executive in the tech industry.