An Apple a day does keep the doctor away

How medical devices sensors and mobile devices are advancing healthcare

Healthcare has been hot for mobile over the past few years, even more so than any other industry. Hospitals, medical device companies and software providers have been clamoring to have an increased presence in a booming industry. The latest trend in healthcare is integrating small sensors to be able to stream live data from a patient back to another system and drive that information back to the doctor or the family of the patient. For example, you may have a family member in home health services or in a nursing home. The sensors would wirelessly feed data such as pulse, respiration, oxygen saturation and temperature back to a small device in the patient’s room or a bed that is connected to the network. From that point the data can be viewed by the doctor via their mobile device. Aside from internal medicine, mobile devices and sensors are being used to monitor your fitness, sleep and many other aspects of overall well being.

Personal Healthcare Sensors

There are already several excellent peripheral devices in the medical field for the iPhone. Withings is a leader in the consumer space. They provide a blood pressure cuff, scale and a baby monitor that you can connect to your iPhone or iPad directly and their app allows you to keep and graph historical data. The advances in bluetooth technology and Near Field Communication (NFC), in conjunction with mobile devices, has allowed these technologies to be taken one step further.

As with any emerging technology, engineers are trying to figure out ways to make sensors and monitoring work for all modes of healthcare. In some instances, the patient themselves carry a mobile phone or medical device that transmits status of sensors attached to them back to another system via wifi or cell network. If the patient falls, the accelerometer on the device itself registers the fall and an alert is sent out. This is extremely helpful in situations where you might have a parent or loved one living alone and you need to manage aspects of their healthcare.

Among popular options for the consumer are the sleep monitoring apps that attempt to determine how you are resting at night. The Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock  for your mobile device allows you to monitor patterns in your sleep to determine if you are getting that quality rest that we all need by waking you up only when you are in a higher level of sleep instead of a normal alarm clock that might wake you up abruptly from a very deep sleep.

Institutional Settings

In another way mobile sensors are making a splash in healthcare is the field is sleep. Sleep clinics are making cash hand over fist in an age where most folks are overweight and those extra pounds are increasing the likelihood of apnea and other sleeping disorders. Although the people who actually have a sleep disorder is an order of magnitude larger than the people who actually go to a sleep clinic to get tested since it usually means at least two nights of very uncomfortable sleep with sensors attached to your legs, chest and head. Again mobile sensing devices are solving the problem. Some cutting edge sleep technicians are hooking you up at night with the sensors and those sensors are transmitting to a mobile device and then the device is transmitting the data back to a server where it is monitored by the technician in another location. So imagine, you get hooked up at the clinic and then go home to a familiar environment where you can sleep better or the sleep technician comes to your home to hook you up and then leaves. The net effect is more people are comfortable seeking testing and less is being spent on sleep clinic suites. Sleep Group Solutions is one such company that offers such technology with an app called mSleepTest.

In the 1960s, when Star Trek debuted on television, the audience was amazed at how Bones could monitor his patient just by them lying on the bed or how he could use his tricorder to instantly scan the health of a patient. Although, even as advanced a concept as this way, the doctor had to be in the vicinity of the patient. The doctors of today can do much more than he dreamed of by monitoring the patient from afar using their iPhone. AirStrip is a company that specializes in monitoring vitals and cardiological condition via mobile devices. A doctor can monitor the stats of any patient with near real time accuracy from any location they choose by reading the waveforms from a patient’s sensors. At Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, similar technology is being used to alert anesthesiologists when their patients are in certain states without having to visit the operating room to check themselves. Also, at Vanderbilt, mobile apps allow for the viewing of a patient’s room by their physicians. Stryker, a medical supply company that manufactures hospital beds, is already launching an iBed that provides information about whether or not the patient is in the bed and if they need to be moved if they cannot do so themselves.

Personal Fitness

Mobile has not only taken on healthcare but the health and fitness market as well.  A new way of heart-rate monitors supporting bluetooth technology have emerged and Polar is one such company providing one. No longer do you have to buy a watch when you can buy just the bluetooth chest strap. These heart rate monitors have more applications than tracking your workouts as well. By combining this technology with mobile, the data that was once limited to the watch or your computer now can be transferred wirelessly back to another location monitor the purposes of alerting. Imagine using this technology to monitor a loved one with a heart condition. Nike has been a forerunner in the mobile World since the early stages of the iPod by integrating it with their Nike+ product to track your fitness and workouts.

What’s next?

In just 3 short years, healthcare has taken a dramatic leap forward in terms of care, but the advances haven’t changed some of the things that have been constants for many years. You still have to make an appointment, wait for the doctor, wait for laboratory work, wait for an X-Ray and then wait for the doctor again. After that you usually have to head to the pharmacy and wait some more. In the near future, eventually this process will change due to sensors. Imagine a first- come-first-serve sensor  KIOSK where you step inside and get an analysis that is recorded to your mobile device and then take that to your doctor to speed the process or a device that you purchase that measures hundreds of points about your healthcare status by just attaching the device. Think about it like the OnBoard Diagnostics tool that your dealer uses when he services your car and the error codes it throws when it finds a problem. Healthcare wish lists aside, we are already heading into a fantastic beginning to healthcare technology.

Your mobile strategy should facilitate business over advertising it

Everyone is thinking about what they want to do with their mobile strategy these days. Most of the bleeding edge strategy in the arena is coming from the advertising/marketing side of the corporate house though instead of IT. Marketing gurus consider a mobile strategy to be akin to a web site. Just another way to expand your business and get your name out there to the masses. While they are correct, the mistake comes when the comparison is made between the effort to create a static content web site as opposed to the effort to create a functioning mobile application.

Most web sites are just static HTML pages. I like to say “marketing fluff”. They serve a great purpose by legitimizing your business and showing the general public that you are more than a few guys at a kitchen table dreaming up ideas. From a programming perspective, static web content is simple. Most programmers don’t even consider it actual code. A mobile app differs from a static web site in that it should provide users with functionality instead of eye candy. For example, you may accept orders through your mobile app, do estimations or load data from a server to keep the content fresh. All of this is functionality that requires deeper programming expertise than static HTML content. For example, on iPhone and iPads, you need an Objective C programmer and in the Android world you need a Java programmer. Objective C and Java are far more complex than HTML and are true programming languages. So, while the cutting edge thinking in mobile is done in marketing, the implementation of the app fall more into the domain of IT.

Some companies have more than static web sites out there. Take Wal-Mart for example, Wal-Mart is a traditional brick and mortar institution but has a web site that allows you to shop at home. This type of functional web site might have been designed by a marketing department but the functionality was delegated to programmers at some point. The same principal applied to the Wal-Mart web site applies to their mobile app. It facilitate their business first and advertises it second. But if you download the app, you’ll notice that it simplifies the functionality that the web site offers. The main functionality is there to shop but some of the more detailed functions are not present. Another principle of mobile development is to keep it extremely simple. Do not try to put all of your bells and whistles from the web site into the mobile app.

Usability and design are extremely important in a functional web site and they are equally important in your mobile app. It’s probably a good thing if your marketing department is leading the charge for your mobile app. This means that usually graphic designers and usability experts are working on the design and intend to hand it off to programmers for implementation. This strategy works very well and usually results in a fantastic mobile experience for the end user.

Now that I have given you a little background on the differences between a mobile app and a static web site, I would be remiss not to mention cost. Cost is the biggest issue I see when someone starts talking a mobile app. In their mind, they equate the mobile app back to marketing expenses and the cost of their “static” web site. “I paid $10,000 for my web site, so I was going to budget 75% of that for my mobile app” is something I hear quite often. Now, let’s look back at what I have said before. The static content web site took one designer to implement doing just straight HTML. Now you need a designer plus a programmer and let’s face it, designers are no less talented than programmers but programmers are more expensive, usually by another 50-100% more depending on the experience level. So based on this, you can logically deduce that your expense for your mobile app should be around 150% more than it cost to do your web site. So if you spent $10,000 for your web site, I would off the cuff estimate that your mobile app is going to be in the ballpark of $20-25,000. Now keep in mind that there are a lot of variables at play here and take my estimate with a grain of salt. I’m not saying you can’t do a mobile app for 75% of your web site costs but I am going to say with 100% accuracy that if you go that route, you won’t be happy with what you get from a functionality perspective.

I want to throw out another thing I see people rationalizing in their heads. It’s a smartphone, therefore it’s smaller, so it must be cheaper to develop for and take less code. It takes the same amount of code to do a task on the server as it does doing the same task on a smartphone 99.9% of the time. Another mistake I see people make with relation to cost is forgetting the cost of the backend support. You want your mobile app to update from the server to get fresh content and you also want it to store that data and work if the user is without access to an internet connection. This adds great amounts of complexity and multiplies the cost of the project. For one, it takes a greater level of programming expertise to integrate with services and cache/store data for offline use than just simply creating a self contained mobile app. This expertise comes at an increased cost in terms of the resource and the time of the project.

All, this being said, I want to just put a few tips out there to help you evaluate your mobile strategy so that you can make an informed decision when you get to that point.

  • Don’t do a mobile app for the sake of doing a mobile app
  • Make sure that you can’t just get by with a mobile web site strategy instead native mobile functionality
  • Remember the cost will be greater than you expect always
  • Remember that you need a programmer and a designer at least
  • Keep the functionality simpler than your web site
  • Try to plan to feed the app from the same data sources as your web site
  • Do not use an advertising firm to write your mobile app. This is the greatest advice I can give. By all means, contract them to design it and create mockups, but have it reviewed and implemented by an experienced mobile developer or architect. Most advertising firms outsource the implementation to a contractor anyway.
  • Do not exclude your IT organization from your strategy. IT and marketing should collaborate on mobile strategy





External Tablet keyboards are not necessary

To me the keyboard of a computer comes as natural as wearing a belt with my jeans. It just seems like they should go hand in hand, but reality all I need is likely tighter jeans at the waist to eliminate the need for said belt.

Something I have noticed since the dawn of the iPad for business is that employees of companies who are not power users are more comfortable with using an iPad over a Laptop. It’s not just that, but most of them are also comfortable without using an external keyboard and don’t really complain that they don’t have one. Within a few days, they are using the virtual keyboard like a boss. This is much harder for those of us who have used a keyboard for years. We whine like a baby who just had our favorite pacifier taken away.

I am convinced that the external keyboard should go away and I am also convinced that the virtual keyboard can become just as productive. To prove my point, I have written this post with just my virtual keyboard. I have used my Marware case to have the iPad angled in a position that represents a keyboard angle so that everything aligns into the correct placements so
I won’t aggravate any tendinitis in my wrists. I have used this setup for simple things before but never for something as long as a blog post before. To my surprise, after a few little mishaps along the way, I am using the keyboard just as well as I use an external one.

We all know the old idiom that states you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. While the idiom itself itself is not true, it speaks to the stubbornness of beings to accept change. I admit that I thought it was not possible to get accustom to the keyboard because of the physical limitations, but as it turns out, the limitations are purely mental. It’s more about breaking habits, much like the habits we had to break when we went from typewriters to keyboards, for those of you who actually are old enough to have used a typewriter that is.

I’ve also noticed something quite amazing about the younger generation of kids using tablets and smartphones. They don’t feel the need for an external keyboard. The main demographics for external keyboard purchases for iPad are middle to later age men who have used a computer for many years. Middle-aged women are also more adaptive to the virtual keyboards and don’t feel the necessity to have an external one as much as men do.

An external keyboard also defeats the purpose of the tablet as well. Tablets were meant to be a tween device that bridges smartphones to computers, but as it turns out, tablets are just replacing both in many cases. Adding a external keyboard to a tablet makes it more like a laptop, which makes the perception and usage of a tablet klunky because the tendency of users is to try to mimic habits they have from the computer, leading to a poor tablet experience.

I see that external keyboards are here to stay, at least until a younger generation comes up through the ranks and more traditional PC users retire or adapt and while companies are making a nice profit by selling them, they will always be out there.

My suggestion is to give the virtual keyboard one week. Just try to go tabula rasa and see how well you do. Remember that you have been using a keyboard for 10-20 years in some cases and you didn’t learn to use it overnight.

Best Pick Reports now live on App Store

Give the Ebsco Best Pick Reports or Home Reports App a try today

Only the 3rd App I have ever submitted to the App Store but it is by far the most complex. This app was done for Ebsco Research in Atlanta and they service cities in the US with a publication of contractors and this app is a companion that those publications… Try your Zip Code today to see if Ebsco services your area. If you are in Atlanta, the branding will be Home Reports but if you are in other cities, the branding will change to Best Pick Reports.

The Ebsco Research app was complex for all of the offline capabilities. Core Data techniques were used to cache and store data that is retrieved from the server. Also, this was the first app that I have used Story boards with instead of individual NIB files. The storyboards turned out to be easier in some respects but harder in others. This app was extremely conducive to storyboards though since it has a logic flow from one screen to the next. There were some gotchas where I had to control the segues but for the most part, I managed to keep it pretty sane. For this reason and some others, the app is confined to iPhones running iOS 5.

While I mostly do corporate internal applications, it never fails to excite me when I get something in the app store.

App Store love: Pixelmator as a Photoshop replacement

I am not a professional graphic artist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a programmer by nature and I happen to be pretty good at user interface design as well, but I am not a creative genius when it comes to creating my own images. I will claim some level of expertise in editing images just because I have used The Gimp and Photoshop for years. Let me go ahead and throw out there that if you are allergic to horrible user interfaces, you better steer clear of The Gimp alltogether, especially on a Mac. It is horrible. And if you don’t have the money for the very expensive Adobe Photoshop, then I might have an answer for you.

I really needed an image editing tool for my iOS applications, after all, this is what attracts people to a Web site or app…the pretty, professional images. I’ve used The Gimp for years, but on the Mac is is so bad, I just gave up and went looking for a replacement. The Pixelmator was the first tool that came up and by chance it was available on the Mac App Store, so I purchased. It was really cheap, we are talking about $29 here, which is an order of magnitude cheaper than Photoshop.

After downloading the program and launching, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the options were in the same intuitive places that Photoshop’s were, so I was off and running. I managed to create my icon for an iOS app within 15 minutes of installing. The interface is gorgeous, easy to use and it contains every feature that I use from Photoshop for the most part.

I loved this app so much that I have made it my permanent image editing tool.

Buy it Now from the App Store

Mac Mini with Snow Leopard Server computers are cheap nowadays, you can get one for a couple hundred bucks. The biggest drawback is that they are bulky, ugly and run Windows, which I loathe.

I decided to replace my huge desktop I had built with a Mac Mini, but I knew I wanted the server version for the power and hard drive capacity. I had no experience with Snow Leopard Server really so I didn’t know what to expect out of it. I gotta say, yet again Apple astounds me.

Not only is the little Mac Mini small and it only takes up a small corner of my desk, but it is gorgeous, powerful and simple to use. I’ll never understand why some folks prefer Windows over Mac, but this little thing is the showpiece for why folks should use a Mac.

The server version runs over $1000 usually, but I got mine on eBay for $800. The basic version is $600 and it has everything the average user needs. Mine has two drives at 500mb each, but I have two external enclosures hooked up to it with 2 1TB drives. I have the HDMI out going into a Samsung 32″ 720P TV and everything else links up with the Mini via Bluetooth or wireless.

The server version doesn’t have a DVD drive by design, so if I have a problem and need to reinstall, I would need to buy one. I have moved away from physical media like CD, DVD and Blu-Ray and I do everything digitally, so unless I have a major problem, I don’t plan on purchasing the DVD drive. It would be nice though if Apple would manufacture a USB drive restore like they did for the MacBook Air for the Mac Mini Server and just omit the discs that come with the device. It kinda seems silly to include discs in a device that has no reader.

Snow Leopard Server has a set of tools that are specific to it to configure the server, most of these are in the server folder in the dock. I have used some of them to configure the FTP Server, File Sharing and Web server. The server can also server as a Time Machine as well to backup other computers on your network, but it isn’t very practical since you have a 500GB ceiling of you are using the 1TB model. The other drive has to be dedicated to the OS. I currently have it set it to backup from one drive to the other with Time Machine. If something happens to one drive, I can get the other replaced and just do a restore, although, I am dubious in how this process would work. I would have to ship to Apple and trust that they would not touch the backup. At least I have some piece of mind though that I could restore individual files when I need to. I backup my MacBooks to a Time Machine on my network anyway.

I have had the Mini for a week so far and I am impressed with the power and speed. Mac OS X multitasks way better than Windows due to the Unix subsystem anyway, I never have problems with peripheral and device integrations and things just work when I want them to.

I am doing my mobile development for iOS between the Mini and my MacBook Pro. The Mini is a real inexpensive way to break into iOS development for iPhone and iPad for those of you out there wanting to get started. Just get the standard version of the mini. I promise that once you go Mac, you will never go back.

Product Review: Apple Magic Trackpad vs. Magic Mouse of you will find what I am about to tell you extremely ironic, but before I get into it, let me give you a little background. I have two Mac laptops and a Mac Mini and I switch between them depending on mood, location or task, so no matter what I am doing, I am real picky about what is productive for me.

My setup works something like this.

Sitting at a table with MacBook, I use the Magic Mouse

Using the trackpad on the MacBook isn’t very comfy if you are sitting and the laptop is on a table. It feels kinda scrunched and I also don’t like to put excessive wear on my trackpad as well by doing it. The Magic Mouse if also a wonder since it knows when I want to scroll or right click. It seems kinda silly to say, but you just rub it the direction you want it to go and it just works. The only thing it is missing is the ability to just tap it to click… you actually have to depress it.

Sitting on the couch with MacBook

If you are on the couch, it stands to reason, you may not have the ability to use the Magic Mouse. You can buy things that will let you have like a small table beside you, but why bother. Using the trackpad is the most convenient in this situation, plus it keeps your hands closer to the keyboard anyway.

Sitting at a desk with the Mac Mini

You’d think that I’d choose the Magic Mouse in this situation, but I don’t. I bought a Apple Magic Trackpad to test out and I ended up loving it.

At first the trackpad was awkward because your hand being out to the right gives the brain the signal that it is a mouse. It takes about 30 minutes to adjust and you definitely won’t miss the mouse at all. You have at your fingertips all of the gestures that you are used to from the laptop’s trackpad, which is sad to say, what I miss when I use the Magic Mouse. I do however tend to use a hybrid approach even when I am using the mouse with my laptop at a desk. Whatever is quicker and my mind just naturally does.

I’ll also say that the battery life on the trackpad and the Magic Mouse is awesome. My Magic Mouse lasted three months on the original batteries and the trackpad, I have been using for a week and it is still showing a full charge.

I recommend learning the gestures with your trackpad. It’ll mess you up when going to a Windows machine, but while you are on the Mac it is super productive.
I will also make a quick mention about the wireless keyboard. It is bluetooth just like the rest of the peripheral products which makes it a breeze to use and setup and you really have no clue just how small thing little keyboard is until you see it. It is just big enough for my hands. It took me a bit to get used to it since it is small and low profile, but now I prefer it over my giant Logitech wireless setup I had before.

Overall, I highly recommend all three of these user input products. Did I mention that they also look really cool?