Is the Apple Watch the next GlucoWatch?

Is the Apple Watch the next GlucoWatch?

Earlier this week Apple unveiled their new products and much has been made over how the company is repositioning or repurposing their Apple Watch as a health monitor. Although the company did not specifically reference any diabetes related new functions it is well known that like their high tech competitor Google, they are deeply immersed in diabetes. It is equally well known that every diabetes device and every diabetes app has to communicate or work with the way cool iPhone.  Even though Android is a more popular operating system Apple is seen as the gold standard when it comes to way cool.

Yet as we have seen with the once way cool but now way dead iBGStar, just because a device works with the way cool iPhone does not mean it will be a surefire hit. As much as many don’t want to believe this the truth is being way cool whiz bang and working with the equally way cool whiz bang iPhone means nothing. Yes there is a minority of patients who will always pray at the Apple alter but for the majority of patients simplicity trumps way cool.

So what would happen then if Apple did actually make a patient’s life easier and built a glucose sensor into the way cool Apple Watch. That all the patient had to do was slap it on turn it on and then have continuous glucose readings not just seen on the watch but also sent to the way cool iPhone which in turn would transmit those readings through a way cool app to the patients diabetes coach who in turn would help the patient better manage their diabetes. Yes interconnected diabetes management (IDM) at its finest.

As way cool as this may sound the fact is this is rather old school and has been tried before. Although it’s unlikely anyone at Apple or anyone in the tech world, a world dominated by millennials, would have heard of it way back in the day a company named Cygnus had the most innovative device in diabetes, the GlucoWatch. Yes as the name implies the patient would wear this watch which would measure glucose continuously.  To say this was the hottest thing going at the time is a vast understatement.

Diabetic Investor can remember everyone going gaga over this way cool whiz bang technology. Many were hailing the GlucoWatch as revolutionary, that it would forever change diabetes management. The FDA panel meeting for the GlucoWatch was a must attend event and yes the product was approved becoming the first FDA approved continuous glucose monitor. It’s also true that Dexcom (NASDAQ:DXCM), Abbott (NYSE:ABT) and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) owe Cygnus a debit of gratitude as the company paved the way with the FDA.

Yet as way cool and whiz bang the GlucoWatch was the device had one slight problem, the damn thing didn’t work or at least work consistently. And like so many other way cool whiz bang devices before it the product was a commercial failure. Cygnus became basically worthless and was eventually sold at fire sale prices.

We share this story not to prove that we’ve around this wacky world for way too long but reinforce one of our biggest concerns that the newcomers to this wacky world unfamiliar those from the tech community in particular, will fail to learn from past mistakes. That they will fall into the same trap as those before them, that they will drink the kool-aid and ignore the facts. Yes we know these techies are very smart but it’s not like the folks who developed the GlucoWatch were idiots.  All talent in the world all the money in the world isn’t enough to overcome some very huge hurdles in making such a watch. Or at least one that is commercially viable, as a NASA scientist once told Diabetic Investor years ago; “Sure we can build a reliable system but who will pay $3,000 for the damn thing.”

Yet given the recent comments made by Novartis (NYSE:NVS) CEO Joe Jimenez to the Swiss newspaper Le Temps it seems as if that history is about to repeat itself. When talking about the glucose detecting contact lenses which they have in development along with Google Mr. Jimenez stated that the project is progressing well and he could envision, and yes that was intentional, the product being on the market within 5 years.

Now we hate to burst Joe’s or anyone else’s bubble but this is pure horse manure. First unless Joe knows something we don’t but there are no clinical trials running at the moment. Second and more importantly we have yet to meet any expert in glucose measurement who believes that this damn thing will work. Many have been down this road before and all have failed. Yet even if by some miracle Novartis can get the damn thing though the FDA would it be commercially successful? We think not given not just were the market is today but where it’s going.

The fact is Google stands a much better chance working with Dexcom then they do with Novartis. Yes this contact lenses idea is way cool and certainly generates lots of free publicity but then again Trump gets lots of free publicity and like these contacts he has nothing of substance.

Still it speaks volumes that Joe would be so public with his comments and may indicate that he like so many others before him has been captivated by the “promise” of what could be rather than what is. Our guess and this is only a guess is that his team told him the technology looked promising and with some additional money they could make it work. He looked at the market size, the continued growth in the number of patients and of course feel hook line and sinker for the non-invasive angle. It didn’t hurt either that this technology was endorsed by tech titan Google.

This is why we don’t see it as a stretch that some bright young engineer at Apple would say “hey why don’t we put a glucose sensor on the Apple Watch.” Being really smart it’s likely the engineer had done some homework and realized this is doable. The idea gets pushed up the food chain and the next thing you know Apple is developing a glucose sensing Apple Watch. And of course being Apple this will generate tons of publicity and everyone will begin speculating on how Apple will forever change diabetes management.

Yet just as Novartis is about to find out that this isn’t as easy as it looks, so too will Apple. Let’s be honest here with the money these companies have to spend on these projects it’s not surprising they would shot for the moon. In the Apple Google scheme of things a few million dollars is chump change. They see the upside as huge so why not.

The big problem is like everyone else they will find out that even if they can succeed where everyone else has failed it will be a hollow victory. That due to market dynamics making these whiz bang way cool devices commercially viable is next to impossible. That diabetes is not and frankly has never been about whiz bang way cool technology, this market is about getting patients to use this technology effectively. Part of that equation is what this technology will cost. Sure there are people who will pay $5,000 for a way cool Apple Watch but just not enough to run a profitable business.

Still don’t be surprised if in the not too distant future we see that Apple is working on just such a project. The fact is developing a non-invasive glucose monitor continues to be the Holy Grail of diabetes devices, the Mount Everest of diabetes devices and anyone who can concur this mountain will be hailed as a hero. It really doesn’t matter much that even if concurred just such a device will do little if anything to change diabetes management, this isn’t about technology.

We had hoped that Apple Google and their high tech brethren would have learned from the past and not repeat mistakes. Based on what we’ve seen recently it looks like history once again will repeat itself.