In 2011, a startup named Avolonte Health established itself in a small office park in Palo Alto, California. Housed in an unremarkable, two-story building with tight security, the company kept a veil of secrecy around its operations. Prospective engineers applying for positions were kept in the dark about the nature of their potential work. It was only upon entering the lab that they discovered their mission was to innovate diabetes care.
Avolonte was not just any ordinary healthcare company; it was a venture launched by Apple Inc., inspired directly by Steve Jobs. The late CEO, battling pancreatic cancer, had instructed a group of key executives to develop a noninvasive blood sugar monitor, a potentially life-changing innovation for diabetics that would eliminate the need for frequent finger pricking. Despite the considerable efforts of medical device manufacturers and even Alphabet Inc., which experimented with glucose measurement through contact lenses, such technology had remained elusive.
Years later, during a presentation at an event, Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor, revealed the Apple Watch, highlighting its health-related features such as a heart rate monitor and fitness tracking capabilities. However, the initial ambition was much broader. Apple envisioned the watch as a miniature medical lab with the Avolonte glucose monitor at its core.
Despite notable breakthroughs, Apple’s integration of health monitoring into its popular devices has encountered obstacles stemming from philosophical differences, a cautious corporate culture, and technological limitations. Several promising projects have been either abandoned or slowed down, frustrating some of the healthcare professionals and engineers hired to work on them. Information regarding these developments, previously undisclosed, comes from interviews with various individuals involved in Apple’s health initiatives, who preferred not to be named due to a lack of authorization to discuss the subject.
Apart from formidable technical challenges, healthcare poses unique complexities that differ significantly from Apple’s expertise in consumer electronics and telecommunications, industries it has successfully disrupted. According to Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, “The things that they’re trying to do are not easy.” While an Apple spokesperson declined to comment, the company has emphasized that its health-related endeavors are still in their early stages.