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041 – Brett Bivens & Ryan Kraudel – The Apple Health Blueprint

This week’s episode of the Future Ear Radio podcast features Brett Bivens, Venture Investor at TechNexus, and Ryan Kraudel, VP of Marketing at Valencell. The topic for this week’s discussion is all around Apple’s healthcare ambitions, specifically with regard to its Apple Health app. Ryan’s background working at biometric sensor manufacturer, Valencell, combined with Brett’s expertise as a venture capitalist focused on the health & wellness space, provides for one of the most fun and intelligent conversations on the podcast to date.

As I mention at the onset of this discussion, this topic has been on my mind for some time, but was propelled to the forefront after a slew of excellent recent pieces of content that I had come across. In order to get the most out of this episode, I recommend reading Brett’s Metaverse of Health substack piece, Nathan Baschez’ HealthOS post, and listening to Cameron Porter’s episode on the Pomp Podcast. All of three of these are definitely worth your time if you’re interested in this topic.

To kick things off, we start with a quote from Apple CEO, Tim Cook, from an interview in January 2019. When asked about where Apple was heading into the next decade, Tim said something that might have caught some by surprise:

“If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and ask the question, ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ It will be about health.” 

– Tim Cook, January 2019

So with the stage set, the three of us began to dive into what exactly Tim Cook is alluding to here with Apple’s health contribution.

What makes Apple so unique and potentially so appealing to the broad healthcare system is the sheer ubiquity of its devices and its sizable user base. The iPhone can serve as the hub for all these users health information (via Apple Health), while Apple Watch (and eventually AirPods?) may serve the role of data collector. Yes, Apple’s wearables are not medical-grade devices yet, but they’re beginning to resemble them and the trajectory points toward them being increasingly more acceptable for medical purposes. It’s the scale of proliferation plus the growing sophistication that is so tantalizing about Apple’s entrance into healthcare.

So, if the Health App is intended to serve as a giant data repository that can be used to create personalized longitudinal data health sets, how do all of these new health-tech companies fit into the equation? Take Peloton, for example. Will Apple allow these third-party devices to feed data into the repository? In my mind, the more consolidated the data set, the more robust the insights are going to be. I would love for my Peloton or Mirror-specific data to be fused together with all of the activity I’m logging with my Watch.

Capturing data is step one, and as Ryan points out, step two is creating actionable insights from the data. With all kinds of new health-oriented announcements stemming from the iOS14 update, such as symptom tracking and sleep tracking, the variety of different metrics, and therefore, insights is expanding. Again, this is what makes Apple Health so intriguing, as each metric might be telling a piece of the story, and by consolidating all of this information into one hub, the pieces can be put together to tell the broader story.

On one hand, it’s fair to think that Apple will continue to operate as a closed garden and limit the third-party data that can be fed into Apple Health. That’s sort of how Apple has operated with the iPhone. I, however, think that Apple might consider a different, more open approach with Apple Health. The reason being comes down to the life-time value (LTV) that a comprehensive data repository would serve. Can you imagine how tough it would be to switch away from the iPhone and Apple if you’re not only accustomed to its mobile offerings, but also the longitudinal data health set you’ve been building within Apple Health for years? I really do think this might be the greatest LTV strategy ever concocted.

The last reason why Apple seems so positioned to serve this role of being the host to all our health data is due to the trust that it’s built up with its customers. As Brett points out, Apple is the number one most admired company among users out there. Apple’s focus on privacy seems deliberate, just as everything with Apple seems deliberate (see images above). The fact of the matter is that data privacy, security and trust will be of the upmost importance for any company storing the sensitive type of information outlined here. All of that trust and admiration Apple has accrued over the years might just be used to allow Apple its next big opportunity.

As we progress further into the 2020’s, our ability to quantify our bodies and minds will only become more sophisticated. We’re due to become much more aware of what’s happening within our bodies by using technology to translate this information in ways that make sense to us. The ability to avoid sickness, increase our own longevity, and live happier lives is going to create gigantic business opportunities. The question will be which companies are most poised to sit at the center of these opportunities, and this discussion lends itself to the idea that Apple may potentially be one of the big winners.

As always, time will tell.

-Thanks for Reading-

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