Cook says Apple's health interests are a mix of profit-seeking, altruistic

By Jonah Comstock
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One day before another big announcement day for Apple, CEO Tim Cook has given some expansive comments to Fortune about the company's aspirations and motivations in the health space. In comments that touched on everything from the Apple Watch to ResearchKit, the tech giant CEO talked about how Apple approaches health differently than a lot of other companies.

"We’re extremely interested in this area," Cook told Fortune. "And, yes, it is a business opportunity. If you look at it, medical health activity is the largest or second-largest component of the economy, depending on which country in the world you’re dealing with. And it hasn’t been constructed in a way where the focus at the device level is making great products from a pure point of view. The focus has been on making products that can get reimbursed through the insurance companies, through Medicare, or through Medicaid. And so in some ways we bring a totally fresh view into this and say, ‘Forget all of that. What will help people?’"

In the interview, Cook discusses Apple's approach to altruism, choosing to incorporate its corporate do-goodery into the fabric of the company itself, rather than the more traditional approach of starting a foundation. He cites Apple's ResearchKit as an example of a healthcare inititative that doesn't actually generate a profit for Apple.

"We ... discovered, somewhat by happenstance out of our curiosity, that the way that research was being conducted was sort of an old-world kind of thing," he said. "People were still putting classified ads in to try to get subjects to sign up. We put out ResearchKit and made it a source so that people could run enormous-sized studies. And there have been studies in Parkinson’s and so forth that literally are the largest studies ever in the history of the world. And we’re just scratching the surface right now. There’s no business model there. Honestly, we don’t make any money on that. But it was something that we thought would be good for society and so we did it. Will it eventually lead us somewhere? We’ll find out. I can’t answer that today."

A lot has been leaked about the new iPhone announcement tomorrow, but not much so far about health or wellness. Some are betting this will be the occasion to announce the company's rumored work on replacing or augmenting the emergency health record. Cook didn't mention the announcement in his on-the-record remarks to Fortune, but it wouldn't be a Tim Cook interview without some vague hints about the company's future plans.

"There’s much more in the health area," he said. "There’s a lot of stuff that I can’t tell you about that we’re working on, some of which it’s clear there’s a commercial business there. And some of it it’s clear there’s not. And some of it it's not clear. I do think it’s a big area for Apple’s future."