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