Letters to Tim Cook Have Helped Shape Apple’s Health Strategy

Tim Cook Looking Excited Credit: Laura Hutton / Shutterstock
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Like Steve Jobs before him, Apple CEO Tim Cook has a publicly listed e-mail address which receives thousands of messages each day. While every once in a while, a lucky Apple fan may actually receive a response from Apple’s Chief Executive, many of the emails that land in the seemingly black hole of Cook’s inbox are actually still read by Cook’s assistants and often even circulated among other executives and employees within Apple itself to inspire new ideas and boost morale.

A new report from CNBC highlights how many of these “Dear Tim” letters have actually influenced Apple’s product decisions, particularly when it comes to the Apple Watch and the company’s other initiatives related to health and fitness.

Like most busy executives, Tim Cook has at least one assistant whose job it is to actually read all of the messages that arrive in his inbox. However, unlike many executive assistants, this person not only filters the inbox for messages that require Cook’s personal attention, but also has the responsibility of identifying messages that might be relevant to other executives and teams within Apple and sharing them to group distribution lists that are set up for these purposes.

Simple questions may sometimes prompt quick responses, while emails that ask questions or express unique concerns requiring more detailed responses are handed off to an internal “Executive Relations” team which has the ability to address issues at a very high level — in one case even going so far as to arrange telephone calls with senior product engineers and specialists to answer more complex questions.

On the other hand, those emails that simply offer compliments or suggestions for improvements to Apple’s products and services often garner no direct response, but they are in fact not only often read, but also sent to the relevant teams and actually passed around by rank-and-file employees. According to sources, this has had a particularly strong influence on Apple’s health team, both in terms of encouraging the team’s efforts and providing insight on the types of features they should be focusing on.

The Apple Watch originally launched in 2015 as a somewhat multi-purpose device, with its health and fitness capabilities sharing the spotlight with communications and entertainment features. Looking back at those early days, it seems clear now that Apple hadn’t quite figured out what the “sweet spot” was going to be for its new wearable device.

However, it wasn’t long after the Apple Watch began landing on users’ wrists that emails started coming in from users sharing stories of how the Apple Watch had alerted them to serious medical conditions and in some cases even saved lives. Apple’s engineers were reportedly shocked to discover that the wearable device they had created had grown beyond anything that they had expected for it. One former employee said that nobody had thought that the heart rate tracker in the original Apple Watch would actually pick up on irregularities that could point to more serious problems.

The collection of positive feedback coming in from Apple Watch users made it apparent to Apple’s design and engineering teams that the company could have a more more positive impact on health than they had previously realized. As a result, Apple began driving the Apple Watch more toward health features.

It was a new day for Apple when the letters started coming in. People weren’t writing love letters (in the same way) about Calendar. Everyone internally finds that to be so exciting.

Julz Arny, Apple Special Projects Consultant, Fitness for Health Technologies

The letters also have a positive effect on employee morale, since Apple’s culture of secrecy often prevents engineers from talking much about their work, and since they rarely interact with customers, they’re often isolated from the positive impact that their work has in the larger world.

While it’s difficult to say how much of Apple’s focus on health can be attributed to the seeds of enthusiasm from happy Apple Watch users, it’s clear that health care has now become one of the company’s top priorities. Apple has been continuing to hire more medical professionals to work on health projects, adding features to allow patients to easily and securely access and share medical records with doctors and labs, and continues to improve the heart monitoring features on its Apple Watch. Tim Cook has said that he hopes health technology will be one of Apple’s greatest contributions to mankind.

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