Why does Apple want your attention?

The average adult American spends almost three hours a day on their smartphone. It looks like Apple wants to take that attention and turn it into service-related products.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iOS 11.3, Health, Apple Health, services
Jason Cross/IDG

In the digital age, attention is everything. One decade since the iPhone, the average adult American now spends almost three hours each day on their smartphone. What does Apple get out of this?

Attention deficit

I discussed smartphone addiction with TechNightOwl recently. This set me off thinking. What does Apple want this attention for? You see, we know Google turns attention into advertising revenue, and we know Facebook turns attention into ads and social conditioning, including the capacity (some might say) of enabling elections to be sold to those with the deepest pockets.

There are lots of examples of this kind of surveillance capitalism in which the attention we give to services and devices is monetized in various ways. Apple thinks differently about this. Yes, it gathers some user data, but it uses technologies like differential privacy to reassure us that we can use its devices without sacrificing privacy. The real value of such privacy becomes increasingly apparent as we look to the implications of a connected planetary Internet of Things (IoT).

All the same, beyond hardware product sales, what does Apple want our attention for?

Hardware is disappearing (sort of)

Like every other part of life, we know computing is transforming. The most recent Gartner data shows that PC sales will continue to decline, that consumer PC markets are fading fastest, that some enterprise users continue to invest in trucks, and that Apple is holding up the mobile market.

We know that as mobile platforms become more powerful, they will continue to replace a growing number of computational tasks, particularly in the consumer markets.

We must also recognize that cloud-based service provision when combined with non-traditional voice-controlled mobile devices (AirPods, Apple Watch, HomePod, and so on) make many tasks once only possible using a computer now be able to be transacted with a couple of spoken commands.

Hardware isn’t exactly disappearing, but it is becoming part of the environment we exist in. It’s early days in this evolution, but it is happening.

Apple’s iOS accessories show the company knows hardware is morphing in this way. And this is why it wants our attention.

It knows the next step. ...

Apple services anywhere

It’s easy to imagine Apple’s services consist of iTunes, iCloud, Apple Pay, Apple Music, and (in future) Apple Movies.

Apple’s service status page shows the company believes it offers far more services than that. It lists 50 different items there.

Not one of those items is the one that I think will be at root of Apple’s future services offering. Not one of those listed services really captures how Apple wants to turn our attention into a highly profitable product that thrives on our attention while also rewarding us on a personal level for offering that attention up.

That missing element is Health.

We know Health and Activity data is already in part an online service. We also know the company is making deep investments in the category, including (but not confined to) the development of a portable patient health records solution for iOS.

Apple is developing new health sensors, and it has been very public in discussing the big investments it is making in technologies and software that take information from those sensors and turn it into accurate and actionable data.

Put it all together, and it’s clear that digital health is at least one of the ways in which Apple hopes to take our attention and turn it into service-related products customers will want and need.

Health as a service

Combine that with machine intelligence and implementations such as preferential health insurance deals for those who maintain agreed levels of physical exercise, and think about the size of the global population and the sheer amount of time we already spend glued to our devices, and the scale of this opportunity should become easier to see.

If you think about it, Apple’s focus on privacy is an essential partner to such digital health service provision — most people don’t want their very private health data shared with others. And this unique-to-the-industry advantage in combination with its existing mass market scale means it may soon be able to field an offer no one else can truly match.

Perhaps this is how Apple wants to monetize our attention. What do you think? 

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