Digital health to follow path of PC revolution, says former Apple boss

John Sculley, the marketing maven who clashed with Apple founder Steve Jobs, says use of technology in medicine has ‘extraordinary’ promise

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Digital health is on the cusp of a revolution similar to that witnessed when the personal computer went mainstream, according to the former chief executive of Apple and Pepsi-Cola.

John Sculley, the marketing maven who famously clashed with the legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, says the use of technology in medicine has “extraordinary” promise.


Sculley, who joined Apple in 1983 and in his decade-long tenure saw annual sales increase to $8 billion from $800 million, said digital-health – which includes wireless devices that track health and highly personalized drugs – is the next industry to watch.

He was a keynote speaker at Digital Health Live in Dubai, which organizers called the world’s first interactive digital-health event.

“The promise for [digital health] is just extraordinary,” Sculley said at the three-day event.

“We’re just at the early days today… like what it was like in the tech industry when personal computers were becoming practical and functional and [people said] ‘gee, they really are going to be important’.”

While the U.S. spends around $3 trillion on healthcare annually, currently only about $2 billion of that is earmarked for digital healthcare, he said.

However, things like the U.S. Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, are forcing people to think about different and cheaper ways of health-service delivery, given employers are now required to help insure staff.

“It’s a very exciting time to be involved in healthcare, especially digital health,” said Sculley, who presided over Pepsi-Cola for 15 years before joining Apple.

“It’s opening people’s eyes to things like tele-health,” he added. “People are starting to realize there are other ways you can get information… you can get all different types of highly valued medical advice, consultations that can be done digitally, over smartphones or video calls.”

Digital Health Live included displays of devices such as a ‘smart fridge’ that gives nutritional advice and recommends recipes based on its contents.

Sculley praised the 26-year-old Emirati twin brothers Omran and Erfan Al Hashemi, whose company Nuviun organised the event.

He said advances would come rapidly in the healthcare industry, with customers able to drive change. “Consumerization has moved into so many other industries, from how music and newspapers and magazines and television are being completely reinvented around the customer,” he said.

Exponential increases in cloud and analytics technology has led to a power shift from “large incumbent companies in industry” to customers the world over, Sculley added.

Sculley on Steve Jobs

Sculley also recounted his experiences working with Steve Jobs at Apple, in mostly reverential tones. The two executives are said to have fallen out over management style and strategy when working together.

He said one of the major themes of his recent entrepreneurial book Moonshot!, described by conference chair and Goolge Health Advisory Board Member John Nosta as a user’s manual for becoming a millionaire, was ‘zooming’ – a trick he learned from Jobs.

“Steve didn’t like to sit in his office much. We’d walk the Stanford campus and the hills above Silicon Valley, talking about ideas. Steve called this zooming. What he meant by that was you have to zoom out and connect the dots and look at different domains that do not seem like they have obvious connection points with each other.”

For example, he said Jobs was able to combine his interest in calligraphy with the seemingly unconnected world of computing and create computer typefaces the world had never seen, but that Apple is now renowned for.

“Steve started connecting the dots and said ‘Wow, if you could take what Xerox is creating… With what Apple is doing building really useful low-cost personal computers and connect that dot with the beautiful calligraphy… I think it will change the world.”

Simplifying functionalities was another skill that Jobs was renowned for. Sculley recounted a late-night session when one engineer came to Jobs with a floppy disc containing a user experience he had reduced to four steps.

“He handed Steve a floppy disk and Steve threw it back… he said ‘Aren’t you going to look at it?’. Steve said ‘No, go back and get it in three steps’. He was constantly forcing people to go back and reevaluate what they could do and improve themselves.”

Jobs was a perfectionist who was deeply involved, and wouldn’t accept more than 100 people in his first Macintosh team as he could not remember more than 100 names.

“The same principles Steve created back when I worked with him were the identical principles when he became a much more experienced, more mature [businessman], when Apple became a great success,” Sculley said.

“He was always a genius, he wasn’t always the brilliant businessman he became but he always had a clear vision and was deeply involved.”

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