As announced previously, Jeff Williams, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Operations, sat down this morning with journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the Recode Conference at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.
He discussed some wide-ranging topics, including Apple’s gamble with the Apple Watch, how they went about solving reliability issues with Taptic Engine, how native apps will improve the Apple Watch experience come this fall, Apple’s focus on health and fitness and more.
Here’s a recap of his chat with Swisher and Mossberg.
Apple Watch and native apps
Apple previously said it wouldn’t divulge Apple Watch sales by unit or revenue for competitive reasons so Williams only said the device is doing “fantastic” and “gathering momentum” even though Apple has entered a space “where other products aren’t doing well.”
“The only number I will give you is that demand divided by supply is greater than one,” he quipped. “That’s all I’ve got. It’s a lot.”
Speaking of a forthcoming developer kit that Apple said would let developers create native watch apps by year’s end which would run directly on the device—as opposed to current ones that run on an iPhone as WatchKit extensions—he said:
Third-party apps will get much better when they can release code natively for the watch and have access to native sensors. That will make for better apps.
For instance, an app like Strava will have direct access to Apple Watch sensors. “You could have a game focused on the watch, as well,” he said.
The said developer kit will be previewed at Apple’s developer convention next month, with first native apps out in the fall. Check out this article for additional insight into native watch apps.
Addressing the topic of health-related features on the Apple Watch, he said that the medical stuff being done with the device is going to be huge, but cautioned that it takes a longer time to study these features and obtain regulatory approval than to actually implement them.
And no, Apple did not look at other smartwatches. “I don’t spend a lot of time checking out the competition,” Williams said.
Health and fitness
Not only is Williams in charge of Apple Watch development, but also of health and fitness initiatives at Apple. It was Williams who presented ResearchKit at Apple’s March 2015 media event.
ResearchKit lets medical researchers tap specialized apps to obtain anonymized health data collected by iPhone’s many sensors, helping accelerate research on diabetes, asthma and other chronic diseases.
As opposed to regular studies that more than a year, asthma researchers were able to get meaningful information in weeks, allowing them to see differences by state.
“Usually it takes a year-plus to see results, we’re seeing (it) in weeks and months,” Williams said.
Asked whether he saw the Apple Watch as a Trojan horse for health, a device that will give people a medical X-ray of their health, he said he didn’t want to talk specifically about where the watch is going to go.
“We view the fact that you wear this, and we have an opportunity, or a moral obligation, to help people live a healthier life,” he added.
Responding to questions about a rumored Apple car initiative, known as Project Titan, Williams call the car “the ultimate mobile device,” adding Apple explores all kinds of categories.
“We’ll certainly continue to look at those, and evaluate where we can make a huge difference,” he said. Cody has more on Williams’ take on Apple in the car.
Overseeing Apple’s operations
In addition to managing Apple Watch development and health and fitness initiatives like ResearchKit, Williams leads Apple’s teams responsible for end-to-end supply chain management.
He oversees about 3,000 engineers. Apple works with a vast network of suppliers in Asia and it is Williams’ responsibility that trains run on time.
At its peak, Apple’s logistics operation employs some 40,000 people to support the iPhone. Commenting on the 74 million iPhones sold during the 2015 holiday quarter, he said the phones “were built, produced and shipped in 90 days.”
Who is Jeff Williams?
Described as Tim Cook’s Tim Cook, Williams served as the right hand man of the current Apple CEO back in the Jobs era, when Cook was Apple’s op-chief, the title that now belongs to Williams.
Cook immediately promoted Williams to handle Operations across the company after being named CEO himself.
Prior to joining Apple in 1998, Williams worked for IBM from 1985 to 1998 in a number of operations and engineering roles. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University and an MBA from Duke University.
“In 2007, Jeff played a significant role in Apple’s entry into the mobile phone market with the launch of the iPhone, and he has led worldwide operations for iPod and iPhone since that time,” reads his bio page on Apple’s website.