Apple has been developing a sensor-laden, fitness- and medical-focused wearable computer as indicated by several notable recent hires and information we have received from sources.
New Apple hires on both the senior executive and standard engineering levels have expertise in fashion, wearable product industrial design, retail, blood-reading sensors, medical device product management, hardware engineering, software vision, and fitness.
As the rumored launch of the “iWatch” approaches, we have compiled an up-to-date list (into categories of leadership, fashion, fitness, and health) of all known and pertinent recent Apple hires to provide a clearer picture of what Apple’s future wearable technologies could offer to consumers…
While Apple has several rank-and-file hardware engineers and software developers working on all of the company’s various projects, Apple’s leadership team and engineering managers make many of the decisions regarding which products to ship, when to ship them, and which features should be included. Besides Apple CEO Tim Cook and his executive team (made up of the likes of Jony Ive, Craig Federighi, Phil Schiller, and Eddy Cue), Apple has several high-ranking managers and executives guiding the iWatch project, according to our own reporting and claims from various other publications.
Jeff Williams (Senior VP, Operations):
Now that Tim Cook leads Apple as CEO, most of the tasks relating to Apple’s supply chain, manufacturing, and operations have fallen in the hands of Jeff Williams. Instrumental in the launch of both the original iPhone and iPad, Williams is the most senior Apple executive directly managing Apple’s wearable computing projects.
As we noted last summer, Williams is in charge of Apple’s special projects groups. Prior to last summer, former Apple Hardware Engineering lead Bob Mansfield ran the iWatch group, but Williams took charge following Mansfield’s surprise role reduction last year.
William’s deep involvement in the project has also been confirmed on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website, which indicated that Williams attended a meeting with FDA officials in regards to mobile medical applications.
Known as an “operations whiz,” Williams gained fame within Apple and on Wall Street for his ability to improve Apple’s shipment processes, foster relationships with oversees technology component manufacturers, tighten Apple’s supply chain, and improve Apple’s supplier responsibility initiatives.
But as Williams explains in his video about the development of the new Mac Pro, “manufacturing and design” are “inextricably linked” at Apple. Running operations for all of Apple’s products, Williams clearly has the know how for leading the manufacturing of many different types of technologies. Apple could create all the products in the world in its “black labs,” but that means nothing unless Apple can get the products into the hands of millions of consumers.
Bud Tribble (VP, Software Technology):
Bud Tribble (pictured right) is known as one of Apple’s first employees, having worked on the Mac since its earliest days. As iOS and OS X have become more closely linked, Tribble is responsible for many of the underlying technologies of both operating systems. Tribble joined Williams in last year’s Apple meeting with the FDA, and Tribble has also testified on Apple’s behalf in government proceedings related to Apple’s software. With his vast industry and software knowledge, Tribble is likely contributing immensely to the underlying software technologies found in Apple’s upcoming wearable device. Tribble also has degrees in medical fields, making his experience critical for the health-infused elements of future Apple devices.
Bob Mansfield (Special Projects):
Bob Mansfield worked on several Apple hardware projects over the past decade, including many versions of the iPad, MacBook Air, and iMac. He is known as being one of the best engineering managers in the world, and multiple sources and profiles have indicated that Mansfield had been wholly invested in the iWatch project before he surprisingly left Apple’s executive team last summer. It is not entirely clear if Mansfield is still working on the project, but the latest word from Apple is that Mansfield is working on “special projects” while reporting to Tim Cook.
James Foster: (Senior Director, Engineering):
James Foster (pictured left) is an experienced hardware project manager and one of the lead managers for the hardware of Apple’s upcoming wearable device. Foster’s leadership is evidenced by his experience as co-founder and former CEO of XMOS, a chip design firm. Foster’s experience in miniaturization is critical in the development of wearable computers.
Kevin Lynch: (VP, Technology):
Kevin Lynch is directing the software engineering group for wearable products. The former Adobe Chief Technology Officer manages a large team of former iPod and iOS software engineers. Lynch has vast experience in software design, engineering, and management, making him a seasoned leader likely capable of guiding the software for future Apple devices. It is highly likely that he is working closely with Apple’s iOS engineering team (led by Craig Federighi) and interface design teams (led by Greg Christie and Jony Ive).
Achim Pantfoerder: (Engineering Manager):
Pantfoerder’s name is certainly not as known as some of the aforementioned Apple employees, but his experience in wireless technologies and management are likely critical in the development of wearable devices. Pantfoerder’s involvement in the “iWatch” project was first reported by Bloomberg.
Indicating that Apple’s future wearable technologies will go head-to-head with the likes of offerings from Nike and Fitbit, Apple has hired a few world experts in fitness and behavior-tracking technologies.
Jay Blahnik is a world renown fitness expert who previously worked at Nike on the Fuel Band and several other fitness-oriented companies. Blahnik worked in the fitness industry as a motivational speaker and traveling trainer for multiple decades, but he left the industry last year to join Apple. His experience in the fitness world is invaluable to a company building a fitness and health-oriented wearable computer.
Roy Raymann (Scientist):
One of Apple’s most recent hires was sleep research expert Roy J.E.M Raymann, a scientist who officially left his role at Philips Research last month. With Apple focusing heavily on health and fitness features for iWatch, it’s no surprise that sleep quality appears to be a significant area of interest. There have already been a few hints that Apple has people researching sleep-related features for its upcoming iWatch—functionality that is at the heart of many fitness products like FitBit and a big trend for upcoming iOS-connected accessories.
We reported previously that Apple had hired a few employees for the iWatch team to analyze sleep patterns, but picking up Raymann shows just how serious the company is about the potential for sleep tracking-related features in a wearable. Notable experience on Raymann’s resume includes extensive research into non-pharmacological methods of altering sleep quality. Even more notable for the iWatch project is Raymann’s experience in wearable sensors and miniaturization of sensors related to tracking sleep and alertness activity.
While Apple is primed to pack in intense technologies and software into its future wearable devices, the company will need to ensure that the products are fashionable and able to be marketed to the masses. With the help of two fashion retail experts, Apple will likely be able to both produce attractive wearable devices and sell them in atmospheres perfect for allowing people to try on and experience the devices.
Paul Deneve (Special Projects):
Lending credibility to the idea that Apple’s iWatch product could attempt to blur the lines between fashion and function is the appointment of high-profile Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve back in July (pictured on the left above, next to friend of Jony Ive, Marc Newson). Apple picked up Deneve to work under Tim Cook on special projects, although apparently not in retail, and the executive’s experience in selling high end goods could come in handy if Apple plans to market iWatch as just as much a piece of fashion as technology. With Apple’s reputation of building high end products that are concerned with beauty and design aesthetics just as much as user friendliness, it’s not a stretch to imagine the iWatch team would seek input from an executive from one of the world’s premier fashion brands.
Angela Ahrendts (Incoming Senior VP, Retail):
While not exactly confirmed to be working on the iWatch project directly, Apple’s new Head of Retail, expected to start this spring, is notable for a number of reasons. There have been a lot of question regarding whether or not a watch product from Apple would seek design inspiration from the high end fashion market, and Ahrendts, as former CEO of Burberry, is one of the world’s experts in both designing and selling fashion-related goods. Her expertise will be critical at the point of sale (both online and in-store) for future Apple wearable devices.
Ben Shaffer (Designer):
Speaking of fashion, another big hire from the fashion world this year came when Apple picked up top Nike design director Ben Shaffer. The designer has worked on the FuelBand wearable fitness device and other products that came out of Nike’s research lab. He was also the Studio Director of Nike’s R/D program, and his design experience could be key to the iWatch’s design. Nike’s research and development lab known as “Innovation Kitchen” also developed the Flyknit shoe technology under Shaffer’s leadership.
Example of biomedical industry’s work on blood sensors
Health functionality will be key to the iWatch. According to sources familiar with iOS 8′s Healthbook function, Apple is preparing its device to be able to interpret hydration, blood pressure, glucose, pulse, and heart rate data. Indicating that Apple is fully invested in those plans, the company has hired several world-renowned scientists and medical device engineers over the past year.
Ueyn Block (Scientist):
Block was a key engineering director at his former employer C8 MediSensors. We profiled his company’s work last year:
The company’s technology provides a non-invasive way to measure substances in the human body such as glucose levels. The technology, as described in the above video, could be ideal for patients monitoring diabetes. For an Apple wearable device with sensors, this functionality would likely be a true game-changer for the many people across the world.
Block’s expertise in machine learning and interpreting data through skin is likely invaluable for Apple as it seeks to assist people in health-related ways and changing behavior with upcoming wearable devices.
Above is a video (featuring Block) about C8′s technology.
Nancy Dougherty (Hardware Engineer):
Nancy Dougherty, who joined Apple as a hardware engineer in late 2013, has worked with technology-based medical products since 2010 with Proteus Digital Health. Her work there included a health metric-reading wearable patch and ingestible, Bluetooth-connected smart pills for monitoring dosages and scheduling. Most recently, Dougherty worked as a hardware lead for Sano Intelligence, whose tagline reads ‘the API for the bloodstream,’ working on a wearable sensor system. Dougherty is also active in the Quantified Self community and has spoken out about the need for smarter sensors to create more robust and useful data.
Todd Whitehurst (Director, Hardware Development):
Dr. Todd Whitehurst joined Apple from Senseonics last summer. He was Senseonics’s Vice President of Hardware Engineering up until his departure. He ran the engineering team for a wireless, smartphone-connected body sensor. The company explains the technology:
The Senseonics Mobile Medical Application is designed to run on a smartphone to receive and display the sensor glucose data from the Senseonics Transmitter. It is intended to provide easy access of real-time glucose measurements without burdening the user with another dedicated device to carry. Besides the current glucose value, the smartphone running the Mobile Medical Application is also geared to display the rate and direction of glucose change, graphical trends, and alerts for impending hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. The application is also intended to store past values for further analysis and reporting.
His experience in medical hardware engineering as well as in medical device-connected software is likely key to the development of both iWatch hardware and Healthbook software.
Michael O’Reilly (Scientist):
Dr. O’Reilly, before joining Apple last summer, served as Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for nearly five years at a company called Masimo. O’Reilly has been involved in the FDA meetings regarding future health related technologies at Apple.
At his previous employer, he worked on an iPhone application and hardware for sensing a human pulse. A video of his work is above.
Ravi Narashamian (Research and Development):
Ravi Narasimhan, an expert in biosensors and wireless communications, joined Apple’s research and development team at the end of 2013. He previously worked on biosensor technology R&D for Vital Connect, Inc. During his time at the firm, Narasimhan focused heavily on sensors for measuring respiration and activity levels and wearable medical devices. Aside from working with sensors and wearables, Narasimhan interestingly has a scientific background in working with LTE base stations and 802.11 Wi-Fi chipsets, including contributing toward the 802.11n standard. The combination of medical sensor and wireless expertise are valuable for the company’s upcoming device.
In addition to the hundreds of skilled hardware and software engineers already at Apple, this group of recent hires shows that the company is planning to enter the wearable fitness and health device market in a major way. With Apple openly posting a job listing related to testing fitness and health devices (and since removing it following our post this morning), the question is no longer if Apple is building a smart watch, but it instead becomes when will Apple introduce the product?
Michael Steeber, Jordan Kahn, and Zac Hall contributed to this article.
Filed under: AAPL Company
, iOS Devices
, Bob Mansfield
, Future Product
, iOS 8
, KEvin Lynch
, Tim Cook
, Todd Whitehurst
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