iWatch: Apple’s first true foray into wearable tech

You have to say the odds are stacked against them though.

Reports from Silicon Valley suggest Apple is currently recruiting heavily in its iWatch wrist computer division, in the hope of ironing out design problems the team is currently grappling with. Insiders at its Cupertino headquarters suggest the hiring spree has been sparked amid concerns the new tech will not be ready until the end of 2014. Apple’s first true foray into wearable technology, chief executive Tim Cook said in June that this market segment was "ripe for exploration" and "incredibly interesting".

Although not yet officially announced, industry insiders agree a new smartwatch is the most likely piece of kit under development; with Apple has already making several applications to trademark "iWatch". Mr Cook hinted at its existence in April, saying: "Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software and services that we can't wait to introduce this fall and throughout 2014."

With Apple clearly investing heavily in the iWatch, you have to wonder whether the company is backing the wrong horse. Industry analysts have long been predicting the explosion of wearable tech, but its growth has so far been meagre at best. Critical consensus hasn’t yet been reached either, with Google Glass generating a lot of column inches but also polarising opinion. Reviews have praised its inituitive hands-free interface in the same breath as pouring scorn on the potential privacy problems associated with the glasses-mounted camera, which makes it difficult for others to tell if you are recording them or not.

It remains to be seen if the iWatch will encounter such a reception upon its release, but at this stage at least, you have to say the odds are stacked against Apple. One of the biggest advantages of Google Glass is that it frees up your hands to do other things, while still allowing you to make use of the technology’s features, as Google has made very clear in its promotional material. I doubt many people will rush out to buy the glasses because they allow you to record your skydive hands-free, but Google is clearly showing us what the future possibilities of the wearable tech market are. In the case of the iWatch, it is hard to see how this could be made to be hands-free, so this advantage is immediately wiped out, meaning its other features will have to be especially enticing for it to succeed.

Still, if anyone can take a nascent market segment and really make it a success, it’s Apple. The iPod, iPhone and iPad were not the first MP3 player, smartphone or tablet to be released, but their huge success shows just what a difference a compelling product and some canny marketing can make. The iPhone has now sold in excess of 250m units.

However, success isn’t always guaranteed even when it comes to this tech giant’s products; Apple TV anyone? Lauded as the future of television when launched in March 2007, the digital media receiver has never really caught the public’s imagination despite a redesign in 2010 and again in 2012. The difference between success and failure of the iWatch could rest heavily on Apple latest recruits.

Reports from Silicon Valley suggest Apple is currently recruiting heavily in its iWatch wrist computer division. Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

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All doctors kill people – and the threat of prosecution is bad for everyone

We must recognise the reality of medical practice: just because a doctor makes a mistake, that doesn’t mean they’ve all broken the law. 

On 15 November the Court of Appeal quashed the 2013 conviction for gross negligence manslaughter (GNM) of a senior consultant surgeon in London, David Sellu. Sellu, who had completed his prison term by the time the appeal was heard, will never get back the 15 months of his life that he spent in jail. Nor will the personal and family trauma, or the damage to his reputation and livelihood, ever properly heal. After decades of exemplary practice – in the course of the investigation numerous colleagues testified to his unflappable expertise – Sellu has said that he has lost the heart ever to operate again.

All doctors kill people. Say we make 40 important decisions about patients in a working day: that’s roughly 10,000 per annum. No one is perfect, and medical dilemmas are frequently complex, but even if we are proved right 99 per cent of the time, that still leaves 100 choices every year where, with the benefit of hindsight, we were wrong.

Suppose 99 per cent of those have no negative consequences. That’s still one disaster every 12 months. And even if most of those don’t result in a fatal outcome, over the course of a career a few patients are – very regrettably – going to die as a result of our practice. Almost invariably, these fatalities occur under the care of highly skilled and experienced professionals, working in good faith to the very best of their abilities.

If one of these cases should come before a crown court, the jury needs meticulous direction from the trial judge on the legal threshold for a criminal act: in essence, if a doctor was clearly aware of, and recklessly indifferent to, the risk of death. Sellu’s conviction was quashed because the appeal court found that the judge in his trial had singularly failed to give the jury these directions. The judiciary make mistakes, too.

Prosecutions of health-care professionals for alleged GNM are increasing markedly. The Royal College of Surgeons of England identified ten cases in 2015 alone. This must reflect social trends – the so-called “blame culture”, in which we have come to believe that when a tragedy occurs, someone must be held responsible. In every one of these cases, of course, an individual’s life has been lost and a family left distraught; but there is a deepening sense in which society at large, and the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), in particular, appear to be disconnected from the realities of medical practice.

Malpractice investigation and prosecution are horrendous ordeals for any individual. The cumulative impact on the wider health-care environment is equally serious. In a recent survey of doctors, 85 per cent of respondents admitted that they were less likely to be candid about mistakes, given the increasing involvement of the criminal law.

This is worrying, because the best way to avoid errors in future is by open discussion with the aim of learning from what has gone wrong. And all too often, severely adverse events point less to deficiencies on the part of individuals, and more to problems with systems. At Sellu’s hospital, emergency anaesthetic cover had to be arranged ad hoc, and this contributed to delays in potentially life-saving surgery. The tragic death of his patient highlighted this; management reacted by putting a formal rota system in place.

Doctors have long accepted the burden of civil litigation, and so insure themselves to cover claims for compensation. We are regulated by the General Medical Council, which has powers to protect patients from substandard practice, including striking off poorly performing doctors. The criminal law should remain an exceptional recourse.

We urgently need a thorough review of the legal grounds for a charge of GNM, with unambiguous directions to the police, CPS and judges, before the spectre of imprisonment becomes entrenched for those whose only concern is to provide good care for their patients. As Ken Woodburn, a consultant vascular surgeon in Cornwall who was accused and acquitted of GNM in 2001, has said: “You’re only ever one error away from a manslaughter prosecution.”

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage