Ap­ple opin­ion

Ap­ple is sell­ing sugar wa­ter, but Gary Mar­shall thinks Steve Jobs would ap­prove of Ap­ple’s big idea

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Steve Jobs re­cruited John Scul­ley from Pepsi with a line that would be­come fa­mous: “Do you want to sell sugar wa­ter for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Dur­ing the Ap­ple Watch event, Tim Cook sold sugar wa­ter, an­nounc­ing a deal with Coca-Cola to make more than 100,000 vend­ing ma­chines Ap­ple Pay com­pat­i­ble – but the irony wasn’t lost on in­ter­net wits. And then he an­nounced plans to change the world.

I don’t mean that in the usual way. We’re not talk­ing about a slightly thin­ner lap­top or a slightly big­ger smart­phone. We’re talk­ing about re­duc­ing hu­man suf­fer­ing.

When Ap­ple an­nounced Re­searchKit, it gave med­i­cal re­search a ma­jor shot in the arm. Within hours of the an­nounce­ment, a Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity car­dio­vas­cu­lar study at­tracted more than 11,000 par­tic­i­pants – some­thing that “would take a year and 50 med­i­cal cen­tres” in nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Stan­ford’s med­i­cal direc­tor says.

Re­searchKit could be the most im­por­tant thing Ap­ple has ever cre­ated. It’s a de­vel­oper frame­work that’s de­signed to get health data from iPhone and Watch users (and other de­vices – Ap­ple says it’ll open-source the frame­work) and give it to med­i­cal re­search.

That data is pow­er­ful, be­cause smartphones and smart­watches can record more data in much more de­tail than any hu­man can. By com­bin­ing it with data from tens or hun­dreds of thou­sands of other peo­ple, med­i­cal re­searchers can gain in­sights and de­tect pat­terns that might oth­er­wise be im­pos­si­ble to see – and be­cause Ap­ple doesn’t sell user data, peo­ple are more likely to sign up than if the data was go­ing via Google.

Ap­ple isn’t be­ing en­tirely al­tru­is­tic here, of course. The killer app for smart­watches and fu­ture smartphones may be an app that does the op­po­site of killing you: an app that mon­i­tors your body 24/7 and can warn you of po­ten­tial prob­lems long be­fore they be­come se­ri­ous. Siri could be­come a truly per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, re­mind­ing you to take your meds, spot­ting early signs of trou­ble or let­ting you know the best time to break out the Barry White al­bums and aphro­disi­acs. That could sell a lot of Ap­ple Watches.

But it’s not just about sales. Re­searchKit and HealthKit are gen­uinely ex­cit­ing be­cause they have the po­ten­tial to im­prove, and save, lives. In the fu­ture, Siri might buy you that Coke, then tell you not to drink it. Free­lance writer Gary Mar­shall says that when he dies, he’ll leave his body to med­i­cal re­search “so they can have a good laugh”.

We’re not talk­ing about a thin­ner lap­top or smart­phone. We’re talk­ing about re­duc­ing hu­man suf­fer­ing

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