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About Sarah Lai Stirland

Sarah Lai Stirland

Sarah Lai Stirland is from the gadget and status-crazed island of Hong Kong, where even sampan drivers enjoy showing off their latest gizmos. Sarah's work has appeared in Congress Daily, National Journal, POLITICO, Portfolio.com, Red Herring, The Village Voice, and Wired.com, among other places. She now lives with her husband, cat and her young gadget-obsessed, button-pushing daughter in San Francisco. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @LaiStirland

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How The iPhone Was Created By A ‘Cluster of Assholes’

"I actually don’t think that anybody except for Apple was capable of building the iPhone," says Andy Grignon at DENT 2014 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Photo: Kris Krug

“I actually don’t think that anybody except for Apple was capable of building the iPhone,” says Andy Grignon at DENT 2014 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Photo: Kris Krug

When he set out to create the iPhone, Steve Jobs deliberately picked engineers with no mobile phone industry experience because he didn’t want Apple’s smartphone to be “tainted” by old ideas about what could and could not be achieved, says a former software engineer who worked on the project.

“We had the opportunity to hire people from Palm, from Nokia, to help us build this thing. [But] Steve said, ‘No, no, we don’t need to do that,'” Andy Grignon told me during a recent onstage interview at the DENT conference on innovation in Sun Valley, Idaho.

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How Your iPhone Will Help Keep The Doctors Away

How Your iPhone Will Help Keep The Doctors Away

Soon, a doctor could prescribe you an app. Photo: Flickr/Jason A. Howie

Your iPhone isn’t capable of the instant diagnosis and treatment of illnesses yet, but in time it may rival the Tricorder of Star Trek fame.

Whether you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, to keep better track of your kids’ immunization schedule, or to provide more help to your aging parents, there’s a florid universe of apps in 2014 to help you to do it all.

Last year, more and more people used devices such as Jawbone UP, Nike Fuel or the FitBit Flex to track their health, fitness and dietary habits. But in 2014 and beyond, mobile health apps are going to expand well beyond that to become, as David Albert, CEO and Founder of San Francisco startup AliveCor puts it: “physician-guided self-management,” systems.

Soon, the worried — well quantified-self fans — and the rest of us are increasingly going to be able to collect more kinds of information about ourselves on our mobile devices. Once those daily habits and vitals are tracked, algorithms will be able to make recommendations on actions to take, or they will whisk that data straight back to the doctor for a more informed discussion during a later visit.

Already, smartphone owners in the United States and the United Kingdom can produce their own electrocardiograms with AliveCor and send them off for instant analysis. In the coming year, some doctors will be prescribing Type 2 diabetes patients a digital health product that incorporates an app called BlueStar from Baltimore, MD startup WellDoc to manage their conditions. Both products have been examined and cleared for the U.S. market by the Food and Drug Administration. They’ve also been through extensive use and testing in clinical trials.

“We see AliveCor [eventually] becoming your personal healthcare portal,” beyond ECGs, Albert said in an interview. “You’ll use it to analyze yourself, and to communicate with the doctor, and your healthcare providers will use it to provide you with feedback, guidance and coaching.”

The general hope is that digital technology, wireless sensors and cloud storage can make healthcare management more efficient, reduce costs and shift much of the balance of managing individuals’ health back to the individual from the doctor’s office.

While anyone can buy AliveCor’s sensors, access to WellDoc’s BlueStar Type 2 diabetes management product will only be available with a prescription. A half-hour in-person product installation and training session accompanies the prescription. Once installed, the BlueStar software uses the information that’s entered into the system to make personalized recommendations on how users should regulate their blood sugar levels.

A randomized controlled trial of the WellDoc Bluestar system published in the American Diabetes Association’s journal in 2011 showed that there was a significant two-point reduction in users’ three-month average glucose levels, said Chris Bergstrom, Welldoc’s chief strategy and commercial officer in an interview. That means that the chances of those users’ diabetes getting worse are also significantly reduced.

How Your iPhone Will Help Keep The Doctors Away

WellDoc’s BlueStar algorithms will coach people with Type 2 Diabetes on how to better manage their conditions.

The hope from the medical community is that individuals will use apps not only to keep fit, but to better manage their chronic conditions so that they don’t progress to the next stage.

It’s a significant goal both here in the U. S. and globally. The World Health Organization estimates that two thirds of the 55 million people who died in 2011 suffered either from some form of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or a chronic lung disease.

In the U.S. alone, almost 24 million people suffer from diabetes and someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds.

For more people than ever before, there’s an increased financial incentive to live healthily: A new Obama administration rule that became effective at the beginning of the year allows employers to either reward employees for meeting certain health-related goals, or to penalize them.

The incentives are designed to get people to stop smoking, exercise more, lose weight and maintain certain levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and a healthy body mass index. According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of adult Americans have high blood pressure, 13 percent have some sort of chronic lung condition such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, and 11 percent have diabetes. Employers can now start offering their employees up to a 30 percent discount on their healthcare premiums if they participate in specific programs to help them to achieve their health goals.

Two other reasons that we’re likely to see more and more mobile healthcare apps: The Obama administration has been incentivizing healthcare systems to digitize their patient records in order to make doctor-patient interactions between office visits easier, and to encourage patients to manage their own health between visits, says Priyanka Agarwal, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.

And the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, also encourages the formation of “Accountable Care Organizations,” which will flip the financial incentive system to compensate doctors for keeping their patients healthy, rather than rewarding them for treating patients when they’re in a health crisis.

Nevertheless, the potential of the app universe has so far been stymied by the legacy healthcare systems, says Michael Wasser, an independent software developer and co-creator of HealthSherpa, the indie web site that helps people comparison-shop for insurance plans offered through the federal healthcare insurance exchange.

That means that it’s hard for third-party developers to build apps that can help family members to easily access and manage information relating to either their kids or elderly parents.

“The problem with these types of apps is that they frequently require health records to be useful (which most electronic medical record systems wall off),” he said. “In my opinion, this lack of information availability is why Google Health was shutdown and why Microsoft HealthVault hasn’t been very successful. I personally believe there’s a category of app could exist that we currently see very little to none of at the moment.”

A survey of the more than 40,000 healthcare-related apps in the U.S. iTunes store conducted last Fall by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in Parsippany, New Jersey, found that most apps fall in the diet, exercise and wellness category.

Agarwal, for her part, says that we’ll see more usage of healthcare apps once more of them have been clinically tested, like drugs, so that more doctors can start recommending them.

The IMS report also notes there are legal liability issues that need to be sorted out, in addition to other questions relating to privacy and security.

Below are some apps rated highly for their functionality and popularity by IMS, and other doctor-recommended apps (listed on HealthTap:)

DIET/FITNESS

Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal HD Cost: Free. This is probably the most popular diet and exercise logging app that comes with a huge database of three million different kinds of foods (including ethnic foods like dim sum dishes.) Unlike other apps, if what you’re eating is not in there, it allows you to add it. Once you’ve created a fitness profile and goal, the app establishes a daily food and exercise budget for you. Users can track their food and water intake, log their exercise routine, connect with friends, and track their progress.

The advantage of this app is that everything is in one place: it also syncs up to the Jawbone UP system. The problem with using a lot of different exercise and dieting apps is that you have to re-enter the same information over and over again.

Quit It 3.0: If you’re still smoking but want to quit, this is a $0.99 cent motivational program that constantly reminds you of how much money you saved, and how much your lungs benefited from not inhaling all those chemicals.

BodyWeight Training Cost: $2.99. This app provides its users with more than 200 video demonstrations of exercises that can be completed at home. The 10-week fitness program of half-hour workouts is based on the book You Are Your Own Gym by the military trainer Mark Lauren. A lot of doctors on Healthtap recommended this app.

GENERAL INFORMATION

HealthTap This is a free app that lets you pose health questions to a network of 50,000 doctors licensed to practice medicine in the U. S. The Palo-Alto-based company received a second round of venture funding this spring from the high profile venture companies Khosla Ventures, the Mayfield Fund and Mohr Davidow Ventures.

Users can pose short questions to the network on an anonymous basis. You can pay to speed up the response time by sending a “charitable donation” of $0.99 cents. But before that happens, you are shown a list of other previously-asked questions and answers that may answer your own.

You can also use the app as your personal health record in that there’s a profile to fill out that lists your contact and insurance information, your medications, your allergies, the medical procedures you’ve had, your immunizations, and so forth.

The app also helps users find doctors, look up symptoms, and find out about health conditions (what does it mean to be obese, technically, anyway?) It even features other doctor-recommended apps.

iTriage Cost: Free. This app lets you look up symptoms by tapping on a naked avatar corresponding to your gender. I found this app to be overwhelming and clunky. For example, tapping on the lower back pulled up a menu of everything from “Backache or pain” to “Urinary retention.” Tapping on “Backache or pain,” gave me a massive list of potential ills that ranged from lumbago to a bladder infection to cancer. Tapping on low back pain (lumbago) provided me with a description of the problem, symptoms, potential tests and treatment. The experience was the equivalent of trying to figure out what the problem is myself by opening a medical encyclopedia. In other words, not very helpful.

PRESCRIPTIONS

Goodrx Cost: Free. Goodrx helps you to comparison shop for your drugs through a mobile app. It provides coupons and discounts on those drugs. As the company says, it’s like an “Orbitz” for prescription drugs. Some of the prices listed for some of the drugs I use were lower than my current co-pay with insurance.

Dosecast Cost: Free. If you’re taking a lot of different medications, this simple, elegant app is a neat way of scheduling your doses, keeping track of when you need a refill, and recording the prescription numbers all in one spot.

SYMPTOM CHECKER

Kids Doc Cost: $1.99. Anyone with a small child can relate to the experience of panicking and not knowing what to do when your child falls off the end of the bed and crashes loudly onto the floor, or when they suddenly develop a rash or a fever. The American Academy of Pediatrics developed an iPhone app called KidsDoc, where you can look up symptoms and then decide what to do based on a matrix of possible listed actions. It also provides dosage tables for common over-the-counter medications and first aid “topics” and illustrations. This would have saved me hours on the phone with nurses over the past four years.

NEW MOTHERS

Total Baby Cost: $4.99

Baby Connect Cost: $4.99

Both of these apps enable you to keep detailed logs of your baby feeding schedules, naps, and diaper changes. They also enable you to chart your child’s growth.

MANAGING KIDS’ DOCTORS SCHEDULES

Baby Health Record. Cost: $3.99 I balk at keeping a social security number in an app, but keeping the rest of my daughter’s information in one portable location instead of a paper file in my study appeals to me. This app is a file of all of her basic information, including her blood type, vaccinations, growth history, doctor and dentist appointments and medical history. Obviously, if you decide to use these and other health-related apps, it’s crucial to password-protect your device.

OTHER

One other interesting app that’s worth mentioning that wasn’t listed by either the IMS Institute or HealthTap: HomeTouch. It’s a system developed in the United Kingdom by a British dementia specialist that uses tablets to help the elderly and their family to stay on top of the parents’ care remotely.

With all the horror stories of in-home nurses and nursing homes abusing or neglecting the elderly, this is an idea that’s definitely worth further exploration anywhere in the world.

How To Find (And Manage) Someone Like Steve Jobs

Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell: Managing talent should include more fun and games Photo: Flickr/Campus Party Mexico

Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell: Managing talent should include more fun and games Photo: Flickr/Campus Party Mexico

This story first appeared in our weekly newsstand publication Cult of Mac Magazine. 

Long before Apple’s “Think Different,” ad campaign, before the dot-com boom, before zany became the norm in startup culture, there was Nolan Bushnell, Pong and Atari – the company where Steve Jobs landed his first job.

Bushnell is the godfather of the think different mentality, an unconventional character who ran unconventional companies. He made it a personal mission to attract similarly creative, passionate people to help him to realize some of his ideas, which many people considered wacky at the time.

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Will Biometrics Replace Passwords As Keys To Our Digital Lives?

The fingerprint: A brilliant convenience or key to a dystopian future?

The fingerprint: A brilliant convenience or key to a dystopian future?

With the touch of a button, Apple’s iPhone 5s will change the mobile industry. And it just may simplify your life.

Thanks to its insanely simple implementation in the phone’s home button, Apple has taken the first big step toward making its mobile devices even more central to the daily process of more efficiently managing the security-dependent details of our daily lives.

“The phone will just be the lock to the cloud and you will be the key.”

Industry pundits told Cult of Mac that if consumers take to the technology, it will be an important move towards making the phone the key to unlocking dozens of interactions in our lives – everything from logging into our email and social networks with a touch of a finger to paying for purchases both large and small, to managing home security networks and timing the sprinklers in our backyards.

“All of the credentials that you carry around in your wallet – your corporate ID card, your parking pass, your credit cards, your debit cards, your boarding passes, your driving license, they’re all based on the same idea,” says Jay Meier, vice president of corporate development for BIO-key, a decade-old fingerprint authentication company whose technology is used by everyone from the FBI and the federal court system to companies such as IBM. “Driving a car, getting into a building, crossing a border, getting a revolving line of credit – they all represent the privilege of being able to do something and all of that is migrating onto the phone.”

So what else will biometric authentication enable and what’s in it for you?

For the approximately 40 million people in the United States who don’t bother with any security procedures at all, it’s an effortless way to secure their smartphones. The simplicity and efficiency of streamlining all those daily transactions and authentication procedures that underlie many of our daily lives is alluring, but experts say people it could be a touchy issue for people concerned with privacy.

Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, advises users to think about what they’re really using apps for before they enable fingerprint authentication.

“To the degree that [biometrics] are being used to authenticate into apps, I would probably refrain from using those features unless it’s apps where I have no problems with it, like my banking app, where I want strong security and identification features, where I want me and only me to access it,” he says. “But if it’s something else, like an online dating app, or something to do with browsing, I would not want to use that feature where I wouldn’t want all my activities tied to me as a person.”

For his part, Sebastien Taveau, chief technology officer of Validity, another fingerprint sensor company that’s been working with Samsung to integrate the sensors into its devices, argues that using biometrics is a much more secure method of locking down access to your information in the cloud.

“The phone will just be the lock to the cloud and you will be the key,” he says.

And he means that literally. Apple’s deployment of the biometric technology is limited in this initial phase to its own stores and it hasn’t opened up its platform to third-party app developers – meaning that the wholesale revolution in mobile commerce, identity management and payments won’t happen overnight, but that’s where the industry is headed.

Instead, in addition to unlocking their cool new iPhone, at first 5s owners will be able to use Touch ID to buy music and movies in iTunes, buy apps through its App Store and books through iBooks. Analysts say that the impact of the new feature will be limited until it provides an API to developers.

“If Apple develops an API and allows other non-Apple services to have access to the biometric, it opens up the entire mobile commerce world,” says Meier. Otherwise, the company either risks irrelevance as an industry standard alternative is developed (which would allow service providers such as banks to be device agnostic) or Apple forces service providers like banks to use its suite of technologies to reach customers.

Apple’s game-changing mobile products have become the barometer of the future.

This proprietary approach to biometric authentication has held back its use in the world of consumer technologies in the past decade, Meier says. Service providers such as banks don’t want to support dozens of different approaches to biometric authentication through different devices. They want industry standards so that they can deliver their services through any device.

At the same time, there are serious security issues that still need to be resolved with opening up Apple’s biometric authentication feature. Both security experts and analysts agree  that keeping the authentication information stored on the device — as opposed to the cloud — is currently the safest approach. Meier argues that this architecture limits the widespread adoption of the technology.

Nevertheless, since Apple’s game-changing mobile products have become the barometer of the future for mobile devices, it’s widely acknowledged that the launch of Touch ID is accelerating the push for wider consumer adoption of biometric authentication.

For example, Apple bought the fingerprint sensor company Authentec in July last year. That same month, a group of Silicon Valley companies in the authentication and security lines of business banded together to form an industry-wide group to build an open alternative solution to the password.

They officially launched the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance this February. The group is anchored by industry veteran Michael Barrett, the former chief information security officer of Paypal. Taveau says that there’s momentum in the work of the alliance: The group is finalizing the technical specifications of its proposed authentication architecture (similar to Apple’s in that authentication takes place on the device as opposed to in the cloud) and plans to have specifications ready by the end of the year.

Membership of the alliance includes Google, BlackBerry, Lenovo, and PayPal, as well as several other chip, cloud security and authentication companies.

Indiscriminate fingerprint authentication for apps is like someone watching over your shoulder as you browse at a library.

Soltani was the primary technical consultant for the Wall Street Journal’s “What They Know ” series about Internet privacy and tracking, and a staff technologist at the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy and identity protection division.

He says that indiscriminate fingerprint authentication for apps is like someone watching over your shoulder as you browse the stacks at a library. If a stranger were peering over your shoulder as you perused the shelves, you might not end up looking at books that you stumble across that are controversial or prurient.

On the other hand, to ensure real security for access to apps where security is paramount, Soltani says that he’d want two-factor authentication. That is, he would want as a user, the bank, or whatever other service provider to require both a fingerprint, as well as a secondary authentication, like a short code sent to the phone. In security parlance this is a standard procedure of requiring an individual to prove who they are by providing something they have or are (a biometric measurement) and something they know (a code.)

Indeed, according to Brent Iadarola, a mobile communications analyst at the research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the launch of Touch ID is one step along a product road map that will enable a much more intrusive relationship between retailers and consumers.

Iadarola says that now that there’s a more seamless implementation of an authentication feature on the iPhone, he expects marketers to capitalize on it. Retail establishments might try to lure consumers their way with coupons and offers on their mobile devices as they stroll through public spaces like malls and airports.

These would have to be phone owners who had specifically chosen to allow these kinds of offers to be sent to them. Shop owners could potentially locate these potential consumers in proximity to their stores with Apple’s WiFiSLAM technology (a technology that enables mobile location tracking indoors,) reach them with a customized message through iAds (Apple’s mobile advertising network) and allow payments and transactions through iWallet (its mobile payment system.)

“This is essentially the convergence of location-based services with secure local payment. To me, that’s where Apple’s future is pointing,” he says.

How This Award-Winning Pixar Director Told Off Steve Jobs

Pixar's Brad Bird and Mark Andrews working on The Incredibles. Picture courtesy of Pixar.

Pixar’s Brad Bird and Mark Andrews working on The Incredibles. Picture courtesy of Pixar.

San Francisco, CA — Steve Jobs revered Pixar for its blend of artistry and technology, as Walter Isaacson detailed in his 2011 biography, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that he actually apologized to one of the artists working on the 2004 film “The Incredibles” after he criticized some of the design in the film after a screening.

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Toddlers On The iPad: What Works And What Doesn’t For One 22-Month-Old

Toddlers On The iPad: What Works And What Doesn’t For One 22-Month-Old

Are Mobile Devices Key To Our Kids' Futures? Photo by: Oxtopus/Flickr

I’m a reluctant iPad parent who gave my toddler my gadget to play with once. Ever since that one experience, it has become impossible to use it when she’s around without her wanting to monopolize it.

She’s a true addict. She even looks at me weirdly if I put it down somewhere within her vicinity without handing it over to her.

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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Blasts Steve Jobs For Manufacturing The iPad In China

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Blasts Steve Jobs For Manufacturing The iPad In China

Jesse Jackson, Jr. Harbors Deep Ambivalence About the iPad

The iPad has inevitably made its debut into the congressional debate over the federal budget.

On Friday, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. D-Ill., made reference to it during a rambling monologue concerning America’s budget and the state of our economy on the House floor.

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Apple Launches New iPad 2 Ad: “We Believe,” A Reminder of Its History of Innovation

Apple Launches New iPad 2 Ad: “We Believe,” A Reminder of Its History of Innovation

Apple launched its new ad campaign for the iPad 2 Saturday based on its founding philosophy of bringing technology to the masses.

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Time Warner Cable iPad App Is Just The Tip of the Iceberg

Time Warner Cable iPad App Is Just The Tip of the Iceberg

There’s been a lot of press lately about Time Warner Cable’s foray into portability by offering its subscribers access to their programming via their iPads.

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Software Developer Group To Senators: Access To Checkpoint Data Deters Drunk Driving, Doesn’t Encourage It

Software Developer Group To Senators: Access To Checkpoint Data Deters Drunk Driving, Doesn’t Encourage It
Trapster is a popular iPhone app that alerts drivers to police speed traps, red light cameras and DUI checkpoints. The company has tried to remove DUI checkpoints, but users kept putting them back in.

A group representing thousands of independent software developers on Monday sent a letter objecting to four Democratic senators’ request last week to smartphone companies to remove applications that alert drivers to DUI checkpoints.

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