Former iPhone manager: Apple will struggle to analyze watch data

Former iPhone engineer Andy Grignon questions whether Apple will be able to use the data its smartwatch collects

apple watch fitness

Inventors, investors, and entrepreneurs gathered for Wearable Wednesday in downtown San Francisco at the offices of Wearable World, an incubator for companies building tech that attaches to various parts of the body. Participants mingled, exchanged war stories, and demoed products at the demo booths lining the room.

But the main event were discussions with Wearable World CEO Redg Snodgrass and industry leaders on how to make wearable tech more than just a buzzword. The title of the evening was "The Rise of the Smartwatch."

Fitness bands have been popular in recent years and Google, Samsung and Pebble have released their own watches, but with Apple finally announcing its smartwatch, industry focus has officially switched to the wrist. While the discussions covered screen sizes and user interface questions, the meat of the evening came when Snodgrass had a "fireside chat" with Quake Labs founder Andy Grignon.

One of the original iPhone designers, Grignon doesn't mince his words. He kicked off his time by hijacking the discussion to explain to non-students of American history the origins of fireside chats. After enlightening the room how FDR had talked the nation through the Depression and World War II next to a fire, and setting up an iPad on a chair with an onscreen fireplace, Grignon made an extremely awkward joke about the length of his penis -- which he would reference again later to an overwhelmingly male room -- and then finally ceded the floor to Snodgrass to talk about the potential impact of Apple Watch. 

Quite a rollercoaster.

Grignon made the point that when Apple was first designing the iPhone, one of the biggest focuses was ensuring that the experience of making and receiving a phone call was perfect. They were making a phone -- why wouldn't that be the focus? Yet we know today that making a phone call is probably the least important major feature of a phone. Email, text, apps, download speed and camera are typically more critical. People just don't make as many phone calls.

"We didn't foresee any of that," Grignon said. 

When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch, it spent the first portion of the demo on the slick ways the device could give you the time, even boasting designers had consulted horologists from around the world. Yet the reality will very likely be that these devices, or "watches," will not be important for the clock.

"We don't know, based on what we wear, what we're going to want in the future," Grignon noted.

The biggest bet on the data collection side, at least at this point, is that wearables will be for health information. Yet if people do allow smartwatches to collect these data and other metrics, what are companies to do with it all? At one point Snodgrass made light of the new adage "data is the new oil" by pointing out how little device and software makers can still do with it, or have done with it.

"We don't even have cars to put this data in," Snodgrass said.

For his part, Grignon didn't think sensors only on the wrist were going to be the answer: we would need sensors, on say, our shoes that could track your feet movement, or in women's bras and men's boxers that could track sweat levels. The crowd laughed uncomfortably. 

Later, Marco Della Torre, vice president of product at Basis, was far more skeptical of a world of many connected devices worn on the body. "I don't want to charge those things," he said.

One hope is that these devices will be smart enough to know what you need and want ahead of time. Grignon considered fitness bands useless because they only regurgitate data -- they don't provide people with recommended actions to actually improve their health. The winners will be the products that deliver data before it's needed, and provide useful recommendations and analysis -- the kind of thing Google is attempting with Google Now.

"The people who are really going to make big money on it are the ones who can decipher 20 terabytes," Grignon noted.

Given Apple's track record of not doing anything useful with massive amounts of data, and their late entry to the market with offerings like HealthKit, Grignon didn't think Cupertino would be able to derive much value out of the upcoming glut of information: "They're terrible," he said.

Either way, "That's where we get into the real interesting problems. Now we know all this data about us --" Grignon said. 

"-- how do we make sure it isn't used against us," Snodgrass said, finishing his sentence.

This story, "Former iPhone manager: Apple will struggle to analyze watch data" was originally published by CITEworld.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.