THE BLOG

The Disappointment -- And Potential -- of the Apple Watch

03/10/2015 06:25 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

Apple's new watch is a major disappointment. Even if it does succeed commercially, it missed its real opportunity: to promote healthy aging. Google Glass whiffed on this score, too, and we all know how that turned out. Will the Apple watch follow in Glass's unhappy footsteps?

The disappointment is more acute because of the promise the Apple watch once held. As healthcare crises boil -- accelerated by the aging of the global population -- Apple seemed ready to put its skin in the game. They claimed they had a "moral obligation" to do more with sensors. They made grand claims about the health tools that would be embedded in their watch.

And casting "moral obligations" aside, it's hard to imagine why Apple would not choose to target American Baby Boomers, who hold a whopping 70 percent of the country's disposable income.

So what is the Apple watch, then, if not a breakthrough health device? Early reports suggest it's not much more than a high-tech toy that uses some new kind of gold.

Two words for Apple and Apple-fawners: So what?

In the U.S., healthcare costs are soaring, and healthy aging is an economic imperative. Globally, the situation is similar. And in the tech-savviest of nations -- China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Singapore -- populations are aging most rapidly. Not coincidentally, these markets, along with the U.S., are also those with the consumer bases large enough and wealthy enough to support the kind of broad-based luxury market Apple will surely want.

In other words, the markets that are most hospitable to a "smart" watch are also the markets that most urgently need tools to enable healthy aging. But this watch -- dumber than it is smart -- misses the mark. It has no blood pressure monitor, no glucose tracker, no useful health sensors at all. What happened to the "moral obligation," one wonders. And what happened to smart marketing, one wonders even more.

And yet... and yet... this is Apple -- one of the great design and marketing companies on the planet, with a track record that is impressive and daunting. Of course, so was Sony, not long ago, before they began to "miss it." And on this one, Apple is at least in the right ballpark when they look to create a fashionable wearable.

Nevertheless, one can't help but opine the dud of the Apple watch. In version 2.0, here are two changes that could transform the product from cool gadget to valuable health tool, which surely would substantially expand their market scope.

Memory support: Alzheimer's disease is one of the world's most difficult and costly diseases to manage, mostly because of its degenerative nature and the burden of caregiving involved. What if Apple's watch could provide those in the early stages of Alzheimer's with prompts, reminders, and directions? The smart phone already has these capabilities, of course, but the watch would be subtler, easier to use, and harder to forget about.

The stigma with Alzheimer's is high, and many people with the disease -- especially those in the early stages -- are loath to broadcast their problems. A watch could become a sly but powerful tool to enable greater independence and a richer aging process.

Tele-monitoring: A recent Institute of Medicine report finds that the U.S. healthcare system wastes $130 billion annually in delivering care. The traditional model of receiving care -- going to the doctor once you're sick -- is a terrific waste of time for doctors and patients. But what's worse, this mode of care delivery fails to empower patients to take proactive care of their own health.

Apple should ask itself: how can the watch become a tool for tele-monitoring?

Here's where the "moral obligation" that Apple once highlighted meet real market opportunity. As the population ages, it becomes more important to monitor things like heart rate, blood-sugar, and more. This is what the Apple watch once promised, and this is what it has failed to deliver.

As Silicon Valley continues to struggle to find its footing in the healthcare market, and as it continually over-prizes the young and hip at the expense of the 450 million graying Baby Boomers globally, Apple has opportunity to establish itself in a familiar position: as leader.

But the Apple watch doesn't get us there. Only time will tell if version 2.0 gets it right.