Smartphone health: Apple releases software for medical apps

By Brandon Bailey, The Associated Press

CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple is edging its way a little further into health care with the release of new iPhone apps that patients can use to manage their own medical conditions — from diabetes to pregnancy and even depression.

While there are hundreds of health-related apps on the market, Apple wants to put its stamp on a new ecosystem of treatment programs. Rather than build the apps itself, the tech giant developed a set of software tools and templates, called “CareKit,” that health-care groups and health-tech startups can use to create their own programs.

Apple says it wanted to help developers build easy-to-use apps for patients to record symptoms, get useful information, track their progress and even send reports to a doctor. Experts say the CareKit program could help bring standards to a relatively new and unruly industry, while giving Apple a toehold in the growing health-tech market.

CareKit apps hitting the Apple online store this week include One Drop for diabetics; Start for people taking anti-depression drugs; and two apps from health startup Glow, aimed at women who are pregnant or caring for newborns. Apple says larger organizations, including the University of Rochester and hospitals at the Texas Medical Center, are working on CareKit apps for people with Parkinson’s disease and patients who’ve undergone heart or lung operations.

“These mobile tools can help people reach their health goals,” said Thomas Goetz of Iodine, a startup that used CareKit in the latest version of its Start app. Along with providing information about side-effects to depression medications, the app asks patients to record their symptoms and answer standardized questions to track how they’re doing. Start uses a CareKit feature that lets patients send reports to their doctors; eventually, Goetz said, doctors will be able to respond by adjusting their instructions for medication, diet or exercise.

Data stored on iPhones is encrypted, and Iodine’s app provides cautions to make sure patients understand they’re sending sensitive information to their doctors. Goetz said his company is also developing back-end software for medical offices that will comply with federal confidentiality rules.

But Goetz acknowledged that doctors and insurers “are still trying to make sense of the world of health care apps. They’re trying to understand which ones are valid tools and which aren’t necessarily useful.”

Apple’s software could help validate new apps, he said, by letting developers build on a standardized template from a well-known company whose products are used by large numbers of people.

Apple says it isn’t making money directly from CareKit, which grew from tools the company previously developed for researchers to create apps that collect iPhone users’ data for health studies. But Apple could benefit if the apps gain wide adoption, making the iPhone an even more useful tool for millions of people with medical conditions.

“Even if you can’t point to a revenue stream today, being the hub of an ecosystem related to health care could have great value in the future,” said analyst Jeff Cribbs, who studies health technology for the Gartner research firm.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has signalled he believes the iPhone and Apple smartwatch can play a bigger role in health care. But the industry is heavily regulated and Apple has not ventured into making specialized devices that would be subject to federal oversight. Instead, the company leaves it to the developers who use Apple’s software to determine if an individual app meets any health regulations.


Why you might soon text robots as often as your friends

By Brandon Bailey


SAN FRANCISCO _ The robots are coming … to help run your life, or sell you stuff, at an online texting service near you.

In coming months, people who use Facebook’s Messenger app, Microsoft’s Skype and Canada’s Kik for online chats can expect to find new automated assistants offering information and services at a variety of businesses. These messaging  “chatbots” are basically software that’s capable of human-like conversation and of doing some simple jobs once reserved for actual people. Google and other companies are reportedly working on similar ideas.

In Asia, such software butlers are already part of the landscape. When Washington, D.C., attorney Samantha Guo visited China recently, Guo said she was amazed at how extensively her friends used bots and similar technology on the texting service WeChat to pay for meals, order movie tickets and even send each other gifts.

“It was mind-blowing,” said Guo, 31. U.S. services lag way behind, she added.

Online messaging has become routine for most people, offering more immediacy than email or voice calls, said Michael Wolf, a media and technology consultant. Messaging services are now growing faster than traditional online social platforms like Facebook or Twitter, according to research by Wolf’s firm, Activate.

And experts say messaging bots can handle a wider range of tasks than apps offered by retailers and other consumer businesses. In part, that’s because bots can recognize a variety of spoken or typed phrases, where apps force you to choose from options on a drop-down menu. Reaching a chatbot can be as simple as clicking a link in an online ad or scanning a boxy bar code with a smartphone’s camera; a special-purpose app requires a download and often a new account sign-up.

“Bots are the new apps,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last month. Microsoft has just announced created new programming tools for businesses to build bots that will interact with customers on Skype, the Internet voice, video and messaging service Microsoft owns.

Facebook is widely expected to unveil similar tools for its Messenger chat service at the company’s annual software conference starting Tuesday. It’s already partnered with a few online retailers and transportation companies so that consumers can use Messenger to check the status of a clothing purchase from online retailer Zulily, order car service from Uber or get a boarding pass from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

At those services, automated chatbots handle some interactions, with supervision from human operators. Similarly, Facebook has been testing a digital assistant called “M” sort of like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana that can answer questions or perform tasks like ordering flowers in response to commands on Messenger, using a combination of artificial intelligence and input from human overseers.

Another messaging service, Kik, which is popular among U.S. teenagers, opened a new  “bot shop” last week. Kik users can talk to bots that will answer questions about the weather, show funny videos or help with online shopping. Slack, a messaging service used by businesses, has partnered with Taco Bell to introduce a “Taco Bot” that helps Slack users order ahead for meals at a local outlet.

In Asia, many smartphone owners are used to playing games and buying items through messaging services like WeChat, which claims 700 million active users. One in five WeChat users have added bank or credit card information to their messaging account so they can check balances, pay bills or send money to friends, according to the Andreesen Horowitz venture capital firm.

Tech experts are particularly eager to see what Facebook does with Messenger, since its 900 million users make it the world’s second biggest chat platform after WhatsApp, which claims 1 billion users and which Facebook bought in 2014.

Both are free to users and don’t produce much revenue for Facebook. But if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has given WhatsApp’s co-founders leeway with their service, executives have signaled they are increasingly looking for ways to make money from Messenger.

Although Facebook hasn’t ruled out advertising on Messenger, analyst Ken Sena of the Evercore investment firm says a more immediate revenue source could be fees from businesses, such as hotel and travel companies offering to provide reservations and other services through the chat app.

With the help of artificial intelligence programs that learn from interactions, Sena said in a recent report, chatbots “are becoming scarily good” at carrying on human-like conversations.

Or sometimes just scary. Microsoft last month shut down an experimental chatbot , known as Tay, after malicious Twitter users taught the program to repeat racist and sexist statements. Undeterred, the company has pledged to learn from the experience and build better software in the future.


Apple’s next iOS update might warn you if your employer is monitoring your iPhone

Apple’s next iOS update might warn you if your employer is monitoring your iPhone

Have you ever wondered if your boss is monitoring what you do on your company-issued smartphone?

According to recent reports, the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system – iOS 9.3 – alerts users when their iPhone is being monitored by their employer.

On Wednesday, Reddit user MaGNeTiX posted a screenshot of an iPhone running the iOS 9.3 beta, which is currently only available to developers. The image showed a message displayed on the lock screen which read, “This iPhone is managed by your organisation.”

According to the Reddit post, the user can also access the “Settings” menu to see a more detailed message about device tracking, which warns the user that whoever is monitoring the device can see their Internet traffic and location data.

It appears that the feature would only warn users they are potentially being watched. The Reddit post does not mention if there are any options listed for the user to increase privacy.

It’s also not clear if the feature would work for any type of monitoring. According toMashable, the feature would work for devices set up through Apple’s Device Enrollment Program, which allows employers to register multiple iOS devices before handing them out to employees.

Just because the feature is being tested in the beta version of iOS 9.3 does not mean it will be available to users when the update launches.

Global News contacted Apple regarding the reports; however, a request for comment was not immediately returned.

While this type of feature may not be useful to those without a work-issued iPhone, the news comes at an interesting time for the tech giant.

The company is currently in the middle of a heated legal debate with the FBI over its request to hack a work-issued iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI has requested Apple to create special software enabling the FBI to bypass the built-in self-destruct feature that erases the phone’s data after too many unsuccessful passcode attempts. Apple has opposed the order stating it would create a dangerous “back-door” into the iPhone.

Employers have been known to install monitoring software on company-issued devices.

In May 2015, a California woman filed a lawsuit against her former employer after she was allegedly fired for deleting an app from her phone that allowed the company to track her whereabouts, even when she was off the clock.

The app, called Xora, allows companies to monitor mobile workers – in other words, anyone who isn’t in the office where their manager can see them.

iOS 9.3 is expected to be available to the public later this month.

Usually, the ‘bug’ is activated when an employee on the network opens an infected piece of e-mail.

Read more

Google to Shut Down Online Insurance Site, Partners Say

It appears Google Compare’s grand experiment in online comparison shopping for auto insurance is dead – for now at least.

Insurance Journal has learned that two of Google Compare’s major partners were told today that the giant tech firm is shutting down its online shopping comparison undertaking.

One former partner,, heard the news not from Google, but from several of its carriers that are partners in Google Compare. Another unnamed partner confirmed it had been told of the pending shutdown. A third major partner described the Google move as “going dark” and that the business is retooling.

A Google spokesman couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. An official announcement from Google is expected to be made on Tuesday.

Read the full story here:

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