Everybody seems to be getting into the health technology game these days, and if the rumors that surfaced this past week about iOS 8 prove true, then Apple’s jumping in with both feet. Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac penned an extensive post on the supposedly forthcoming Healthbook app, which shows Apple taking a page from its own playbook with Passbook and Game Center: a one-stop shop for all the information that falls within its purview.
Of course, Passbook and Game Center have both had mixed responses: The former has picked up steam only slowly; the latter’s features are used by plenty of games, but the app itself—even after Apple ripped up all the felt—has become a bit of a wasteland, relegated by most users to a folder somewhere far, far from the madding crowds of their primary home screen.
An app like the proposed Healthbook faces plenty of challenges: It’s got to be compelling enough for users, and either a significant improvement over the options—both hardware and software—that are already on the market or provide integration for those third parties.
As Apple’s leadership likes to point out, one of the company’s strengths is its ability to leverage both hardware and software in the creation of its products. Though the M7 chip in the recent iPhone 5s can provide some of the data Apple will want to track, Gurman points out that there’s plenty of health-based information that would have to be gathered in other ways, probably—shock!—from some additional device.
Over the past year or so, evidence has increasingly pointed to Apple working on something health-related, from the hirings of fitness and medical technology experts to the (admittedly unreliable) patent filings. Taken individually, these breadcrumbs might not prove anything, but if you follow them diligently, chances are they’ll lead you straight into a witch’s oven. Metaphorically, of course.
Combined with Tim Cook’s repeated promise of new product categories and the ever popular rumors of an Apple wearable device in the works, it seems clear that whatever is up Apple’s sleeve—perhaps, in this case, literally—will feature fitness as a prime component.
Cook’s in the kitchen
A new Apple device is enough to pique anybody’s interest, but what has me sitting up and taking notice of this putative accessory is that it may very well be the first truly new Apple device that’s been developed under Tim Cook’s purview. Granted, the company spends a lot of time researching and designing its products, so it’s not out of the question that work on an Apple wearable began during Steve Jobs’s tenure; even so, Tim Cook’s influence can’t be ignored.
What points to Cook? Even as notoriously publicity shy as Cook is, the one detail that comes out in practically every profile written about the CEO is his passion for physical fitness. The BBC described him as a “a fitness fanatic and outdoor enthusiast” while Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky called him “a fitness nut” and described his only interests outside of Apple as “cycling, the outdoors, and Auburn football.”
Cook may not have the same level of hands-on role as the late Steve Jobs when it comes to products, but as the company’s head honcho, it’s not as though Apple’s shipping products without him giving them a look-see. And given Cook’s apparent passion for fitness and fitness technology—a board member at Nike since 2005, he talked about his Nike FuelBand while on stage at the D10 conference in 2012—this may be an opportunity for his enthusiasm to drive the development of Apple’s next product.
Jobs himself was arguably at his best when Apple’s products overlapped with his passions. For example, his insistence on superior typography on the original Mac drew from his experiences with calligraphy; and the experience of the original iPod was driven by his status as a die-hard music fan. Products that he was less enthused about often fell by the wayside; the Motorola ROKR earned nothing but derision from Jobs, and even the original Apple TV seemed to suffer from his lack of interest. (In a 2004 interview with Macworld, Jobs notably described television as a way “to turn your brain off.”)
A lot has been made about Apple after Jobs—most of it sound and fury, signifying nothing—and while the success of a mythical Apple wearable shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on Cook’s leadership, it will help define not just what a post-Jobs Apple looks like, but what Tim Cook’s Apple looks like. Rather than just defining Cook by the ways in which he isn’t Jobs, it’s time for us to start looking at who he is, free from the shadow of his illustrious predecessor.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.