On Wednesday, the new Apple Watch features and design were revealed by Apple COO Jeff Williams, who is often described as CEO Tim Cook's right-hand man.
Apple COO Jeff Williams. (Kif Leswing)
Unlike some of Apple's other presenters, he's not an engineer or a marketer — he's an operations whiz, a businessman who specializes in ensuring that millions of complicated computers are manufactured and shipped so that they are in stores on time.
He's also in charge of Apple's burgeoning health department. And Wednesday's presentation was all about how Apple Watch can help a wearer live a more healthy life.
But the device's new features aren't just about helping you track a workout, or reminding you to take a second to breathe deeply, like current models. Apple is going a step beyond, actually detecting when something is wrong before you even know it.
For example, Apple Watch now has fall detection. Many aging seniors wear bracelets that can call 911 or a loved one when they take a nasty fall and can't get up, like those advertised by Life Alert. Now, the Apple Watch can do that, too. It remains to be seen whether seniors will embrace the iPhone, which is still required to use an Apple Watch, or whether they'll love the idea of charging an Apple Watch on a regular basis, which they don't have to do with dedicated monitoring devices. But now there's a reason for seniors to get an Apple Watch that's not related to working out, or to getting notifications from iPhone apps — features that younger users may love, but that could alienate an older, less tech-savvy generation.
The other new feature is a built-in ECG reader, or the gold standard that doctors rely on to detect heart issues. Apple is careful — most likely because of regulatory pressure — to say the Apple Watch's new ECG scanner can only tell a user they might want to go to to a doctor, not diagnose an issue, but that's still what most people need from a health gadget: an early warning system. This means that the Apple Watch isn't really about the burgeoning smartwatch space, but rather a slice of the $3.3 trillion spent on healthcare annually
, one of the few markets in the world that's still worth the notice of Apple and its vaunted $1 trillion valuation.
Apple faces a new marketing challenge
That's not to say that Apple Watch doesn't face issues.
One was clear from Williams' jokey line on stage: "People in general don't like things that are medical. This kind of makes you want to take an ECG," he said, referring to a new heart animation on the watch.
He's right: People don't want to think about death, or sickness.
As one venture capitalist who attended the launch observed to Business Insider: If you look at Apple's advertisements for the Apple Watch, they all feature young people having fun. But if the Apple Watch is to become material to Apple's massive bottom line, it's going to be used by many different demographics and groups, including the infirm, which could tarnish the cool, fashion-adjacent image that Apple has spent millions creating.
Plus, health is a very highly regulated industry, which poses potential issues for a company that sometimes strains the truth in its marketing — I'm not sure the FDA likes when health devices are called "magical" and the "best we've ever done" during widely watched keynotes.
Still: In terms of Apple's technology ambitions, it's clear that the Apple Watch is where it's happening. It's where Apple is making the most improvements in miniaturisation, in materials, in new kinds of sensors, new kinds of experiences — and new kinds of customers.
The Apple Watch represents the future of Apple as a tech company.
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