Making peace with a lost idea
How the new emergency features on the Apple Watch mean a great validation for my vision, but also a deep self-reflection about execution
Last week Apple presented the new Apple Watch series 4, packed with incredible technological advancements that without a doubt, will impact and maybe even change for good the lives of many, and I’m glad about it. On the other hand, this also means the definitive end of the road for an idea and a project that has been with me for many years now. Agatha (previously Salus) an emergency app I designed for the Apple Watch.
Around 2013/14 there were already rumours about Apple working on a smart watch, one that would have a built-in heart-rate monitor. At that time, I already had an interest and a couple of ideas about how to use technology to improve health and the health system; especially around things that bothered me and I thought better and more efficient ways should exist. But, it was the app for the watch that immediately became a vivid vision of all what it could be.
Flash-forward to 2015, as I was writing my Masters dissertation and the Apple Watch was released, all these ideas were still going in my head and now had a chance to become a reality. An app that would use the Apple Watch for health and emergency purposes.
The concept was simple, to take advantage of the built-in sensors (gyro, accelerometer, hear-rate) to gather data, understand it and build patterns about a person that would allow the Watch (through AI) to determine when someone could be at risk. Heart attacks, falling, fainting; all these types of emergencies that when faced, can disable the person to ask for help.
It just made sense, the technology was there.
One of the things that bothered me the most, was that people still rely on emergency buttons, which fundamentally depend on them pressing it to get help, but what if they can’t? I knew people that were in those exact circumstances, had an accident and were unable to ask for help; being left at mercy of someone else finding them.
Once my dissertation was completed, and with some validation obtained through my research, I embarked on the journey of figuring out how to build this app; an amazing and rewarding one that taught me so much.
Basically, I wanted to create a type of ‘virtual assistant’ that lived on the watch, constantly tracking activity, movement and heart-rate, understating when the users would change activity (i.e. from walking to running) and send an alert with geo-location to an emergency service or next of kin, if needed.
Apple Watch Series 4 puts this idea straight into the device’s core functionalities, no extra app needed. The rationale described by Cupertino during the event was near to identical to what I’ve always wanted Agatha to be, and like almost everything Apple does, it was beautifully executed and integrated into their ecosystem, and soon, the lives of their users.
You can find more about the process and research for building Agatha here:
I was not crazy. It was a good idea.
There was a gap in the market and tried to solve the problem, Apple saw it too and came with a similar solution, that itself is an incredible validation. They even are going to be using the watch to help people provide their doctors with health data captured by the watch, which was one of my ultimate goals and a one the future applications I wanted to include. Thinking about it makes me smile.
I believe this type of device and technology, are going to become instrumental and transformational in the way doctors use data to inform their diagnostics and make decisions; unleashing a new era of accurate and data-driven preventive medicine.
I didn’t execute accordingly, even when I knew something like this could happen. Sooner than later, Apple could jeopardise the project, or fully remove myself from the equation.
There were ups and downs and many lessons learned, but the biggest one clearly is around execution. Faster, more determined.
The main challenge was to get it built, and as I’m not a developer; it was about raising capital or finding someone that would like to take part on the project. I Didn’t manage to successfully secure any of those.
I knew the market existed and I always saw clearly (and almost could touch) the product fitting into the real world.
I should have pushed harder.
Despite deciding to put it on-hold a couple of months ago, after leaving the incubator I was in, I have to admit that still felt weird seen the Keynote announcement. It was that middle ground between not devastated, but not cool either.
It was actually physical, something between my chest and stomach. I would also have to admit that, I even had this dream of me been on an Apple Keynote announcing the app one day :)
The best part is, that is now out there. People around the world will be able to be helped by this amazing innovation, and hopefully be healthier, and feel safer knowing that if something goes wrong their Watch will detect it and alert others on time; or as I liked to say: ‘Smart Peace of mind’.
This is not only Agatha’s tagline and ethos, but my approach towards technology, one where it provides a greater value to society, a belief that no matter what, remains untouched. So, overall, thank you Apple.