Nah, I’m sure it will work

A fascinating hiccup happened on the way to [other people] buying the Apple watch. Based on recent reports, it turns out that one of the sensors built into the watch, does not succeed in recording its information when placed on skin that is tattooed or is of color. Considering the number of potential users of smart watches who fall into these categories, this is by no means a small issue.

The obvious question is how such an oversight happened during the testing process. This is of course Apple, the same company with over $150 billion in cash sitting in the bank. Also, we are talking about  a flagship product that is meant to expand Apple’s reach into a whole new product line and ecosystem. I don’t think that anybody suspects that a lack of funds or a lack of interest was the cause for such an oversight.

Let me take a moment and point out that this should be a chilling lesson for anyone in the startup world. When the first one to three guys are huddled around a laptop, smiling from cheek to cheek over the first successful run of their new software platform, the next step is much less enjoyable and financially far more stressful.

When testing a new device or system, we all have a tendency to limit ourselves, at least initially, to our family and group of friends. This group tends to have a great deal in common with us ethnically, culturally and even geographically. There have been many brilliant ideas that ended up being applicable only to a niche market, for any number of reasons. It is during the testing phase for any new product that one truly needs to think outside of the box. In fact, for such a phase in development, it is worthwhile to hire someone who has no emotional or historical connection to the product. Such a person will be far more ruthless in the testing process and will do their best to both prove the value and identify the failures of the product. This step is so crucial that it deserves great attention and financial resources.

It seems fair to say that Apple is ultimately a company run by human beings who at times make the same basic mistakes as anyone else. As many of you may know from my previous blog posts, I am truly not a fan of the Apple company. On the other hand, I am the first to say that they are presently doing tremendously important work in the field of medicine. I am a huge advocate of wearable technology. If the Apple watch is truly the best device out there for collecting critical clinical information from patients and otherwise healthy individuals, I will hold a banner and march back and forth in the streets calling out to all disciples to go and buy an Apple watch. This is all the more reason why Apple has to try harder than anyone else to identify such problems before their products go live, and has to find solutions as quickly as possible.

The easiest thing in the world is to criticize. I want to make it absolutely clear  that I think the Apple watch is an amazing tool. I personally find it too expensive and in any case, I am an android user. Therefore, I have no plans of purchasing such a smart watch. On the other hand, Apple has been most successful in forming critical alliances with the various major EMR companies. If it turns out that for the next five years, the only way to get critical medical notifications is via an Apple smart watch, then once again, I will become the biggest advocate for people to purchase such a watch.

I am extremely curious as to where Microsoft will find itself in the next few years. Almost overnight, Microsoft has won back a tremendous amount of credibility, given its formal announcement of Windows 10. For the first time, Microsoft will be promoting a [free?] operating system that is able to run on the whole gamut of devices, from desktop to mobile phone. Microsoft’s holographic technology is real and is the first of its kind. The potential in the medical world is astounding. I truly hope that very quickly, Microsoft will take full advantage of their new tools to form the same alliances that Apple has already done. As much as I like my android phone, I would have no qualms about purchasing a Windows phone if it gave me access to such medical systems.

Actually, Microsoft has done something truly astounding beyond all that I have already mentioned. In a move that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago, Microsoft has managed to create a development environment which tremendously simplifies the porting of android and iOS software to the Windows environment. This is, in the software world, equivalent to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Microsoft has released a development product that is beautiful, easy to use and allows for the development of most software languages on the major operating systems, i.e. Windows, Apple and Linux. The people in the audience who were privy to this announcement literally gasped. This action on the part of Microsoft could blow the doors open on universal software design. A company that has heavily developed an android tool could port this tool over to the Microsoft system with minimal additional work. In the course of a few months, the Windows App Store could explode with new apps coming from other development environments. I really cannot express strongly enough how amazing a breakthrough this is.

To return to my primary point, we are now living in a reality where many of the obstacles to the development of apps have been stripped away. This allows companies to repurpose resources, and these resources should be dedicated to testing. It would seem that there is a need for testing environments that take into account the very human and real-world issue of multiple ethnicities and cultures. In practice, it could be that there is a need for a special testing environment that simulates all of these issues. For example, this new type of testing software could simulate the use of software or a device by an Indian individual living a regular day in New Delhi. Imagine such software as being an extreme version of “SimCity”. A virtual version of the device being tested could be worn by a whole variety of people in cities across the world. All the while, the software would gather information on the experience of these virtual individuals. I would argue that such software is desperately needed to avoid flubs by companies that don’t have the resources to try again.

Barriers are falling every day. Interoperability and universal usability are key to the success of any product. Especially for the big companies, they will never be satisfied until every single one of the 8 billion people presently on this planet is using at least one of their products. Such success will demand far more than what is being invested in product development now. For any company other than Apple, the oversight that led to this failure of one of their sensors could have been disastrous. Hopefully, this will end up being a small glitch along the path to further extraordinary software and devices.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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