This article is inspired by the excellent podcast episode
Cameron Porter On Apple Becoming A Healthcare Company — The Pomp Podcast
Is Apple Going to Solve the Longevity Problem?
First, we have to understand the incentive structure behind Apple’s strategy.
Why is Apple incentivized to fix other problems than the ones it is solving currently?
Over the last 20 years, Apple went from a hardware company to a service company. Today Apple is becoming a health company with the Health Thesis of Tim Cook that Nathan Baschez masterfully explained in his piece healthOS.
Let’s look at the success Apple had over the previous decades.
Early on, as a hardware company, Apple created solutions that were very successful in the US. Then, Apple expanded worldwide, market after market.
Apple’s growth was very predictable, quarter after quarter, country after country.
But, the Earth is finite. Once Apple saturated the planet, and everyone owned an iPhone, an iPad, or a mac, the question was: “Where can Apple go next?”
The second step in Apple’s strategy was to become a service company. By doing this, Apple entered a competition with all the big tech companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook) for vertical time.
The problem with vertical time, again, is that it’s finite — there are only 24 hours in a day!
Another ‘type of time’ companies can compete for is horizontal time. If your customers are locked in (which Apple’s customers are), it’s easier to extend the number of days you can monetize your customer rather than competing with the marginal attention in a day.
Apple as a Health Company
Nathan Baschez explained how Apple is becoming a health company. The main idea is that Apple is at the center of a health ecosystem. Apple collects data from a variety of other solutions (wearables, mattresses, and more) that it can leverage in large-scale R&D projects.
What’s the biggest project that Apple could take on?
Apple will want to extend the customer lifetime value by helping its clients live longer.
How to get there?
Health-tracking as an awareness strategy
Most people don’t pay attention to their health metrics before getting into the quantified self and health tracking.
When you start tracking sleep, you begin to be aware of your sleep quality and start caring about it. Having the piece of hardware with you all the time pushes you to start paying attention. That’s what the Apple watch enabled.
When Apple starts to portray itself as a health actor, it can play within the healthcare ecosystem. For example, it can send you a notification for heart arrhythmia using the Apple Watch data.
It’s not only for the “tech bro” that’s going to brag that he has a perfect sleep. Apple will provide real healthcare benefits.
We start to see the value of Apple’s whole privacy, safety, and security narrative. It’s what’s going to give Apple a competitive advantage against Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
The Future Apple is Building
When we look at human longevity, it seems like we’ve maxed out the point until pure health knowledge can go.
We need to bring in more people and more data to expand our understanding of health and provide people with actionable insights.
The era of the “Quantified Self” contributed to making people aware of how different inputs affect how we feel and how good our health is. Once this concept becomes mainstream and not only the hobby of biohackers, it will create a mindset shift where society understands that health is, actually, like a math equation. It has already started with the COVID-19 pandemic that, for months, brought health at the center of everyone’s mind.
By addressing the longevity problem, Apple will create a perfect market for its products. If Apple helps you live longer by collecting useful data, you won’t want to give up all the data to switch to another system. Future babies will be born into an operating system that knows everything that could be useful for their future health. Instead of having your doctor asking you if your grandpa had heart disease, Apple will know.
Again, what makes Apple particularly well-positioned here is its attention to privacy.
How is Apple going to do this?
Is Apple going to buy wearables and health companies?
According to Cameron Porter, Apple could enable the hardware ecosystem to promote their way of handling data.
Apple will use its cash reserve to go after the billion-dollar problems that require colossal R&D budgets. For example, Apple is going to focus on the half-life of technological intimacy, a term coined by Josh Wolfe from Lux Capital.
This transition to intuitive control is a trend that’s been a long time coming. I call it “the half-life of technology intimacy.” With each advancing period of time, technology becomes less visible, less inorganic, less unnatural and less distant.
Apple is going to focus on bringing tech closer to you. A great example of this is what Elon Musk is doing with Neuralink and its brain implants.
However, brain implants could be much farther off than people imagine. Instead, Apple could work on the gut microbiome to help people find the optimal diet.
By developing an embeddable destined for your gut microbiome, Apple could help solve the nutrition problem. The next big area where Apple could innovate is to cover our senses.
On top of the health metrics, Apple also has access to soft metrics that are very important for health and wellbeing.
The calendar is one example. Soon, Apple could learn to optimize your schedule for better health.
With predictive analytics, Apple could help you:
- Wake up at the right time
- Tell you what to eat
- Tell how and when to exercise
All of these parameters could be optimized for the input of your choice (efficiency, time, longevity, you could decide!)
The Activity App of Apple is already a step in this direction, and with iOS 14, the new widgets reinforce the move toward this goal.
Citizen of Apple
If Apple can optimize your life, it will do so with a preexisting set of values. For example, pushing you to relax and stop working is part of a value system that emphasizes balance. Cameron Porter suggests Apple will have a constitution for what it means to become a citizen of Apple and clarify the set of values it uses to make recommendations.
This decision may be one of the most important because, as we said, it will be very likely that people stick to an ecosystem for life.
Apple will become more and more like a country. It has already started getting involved in education; now in health, the last step would be security!
Does Apple have any competition in health?
According to Cameron, the only possible competitors could be Google and Amazon.
Google owns Fitbit, but it’s not a serious competitor in this field.
Amazon started rolling out a healthcare system for its employees, and health solutions may be part of their future Prime offerings. Amazon may be the only actor to compete with Apple on health potentially.
Bezos seems to be more into the Space Game than the Health Game. But it’s still worth remembering that he invested in Unity Biotechnology, a startup working to extend human healthspan.