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The FDA elbows into the app store

Posted: 09/02/10 06:00 AM

By Steve Henn

This is my heart beat.

It was recorded and amplified by an iPhone app, iStethoscope. Then I shook the phone and instantly got this spectrogram, which I can e-mail to my doctor.

Cell phone apps like this are blurring the distinction between medical devices – which are strictly regulated by the FDA – and consumer electronics sold openly online.

Bradley Thompson is a lawyer at Epstein Beck and Green who focuses on the FDA approval process. He says businesses don’t know if the apps they are making will be regulated by the FDA or not.

“I think there is a good there is a good bit of ambiguity now about which of these apps require FDA clearance,” he says. “I know a number of investors who are interested ion those businesses that are kind of nervous.”

Johnson & Johnson’s working on an app that would connect iPhones belonging to diabetics to their glucose monitors. And others believe an app for ultrasound is possible. But the FDA is watching. It’s already forced some firms to pull their medical apps down if they are unproven or make claims the companies can’t back up.

MIMvista created an app that would let radiologists view CT scans, MRIs and x-rays on their mobile phones. The app was slick and beatiful, and it caught the eye of Apple executives. They asked the company to present it at Apple’s world-wide developers conference in 2008.

The FDA was less impressed. Regulators expressed concerns that doctors would be viewing these images under very different conditions than they encountered in a radiology reading room. They asked the group the reapply. After nearly a year of waiting, the FDA decided this app was so new and different that before it could be approved, the firm that made it would have to test it with full-blown clinical trials.

Comments | Filed Under: apps apple medicine

Listen to my iHeartbeat...

Posted: 09/01/10 06:00 AM

iPhone’s all over hearts these days. First, we had the iPhone Heart Monitor app for exercise buffs (sweating optional). Then the news that Apple applied for a patent on technology that could, someday, biometrically link phones to individual heartbeats. And last week, British researcher Peter J. Bentley unveiled a free version of iStethoscope, an app that threatens to turn us all into amateur cardiologists with its fascinating array of robot-like blips and swooshes being emanated by our own tickers.

Or as the London Times put it, “A wonderful instrument called the stethoscope … is now in complete vogue…” In 1824.

Comments | Filed Under: iPhone apps stethoscope jb

Africans rush to create apps

Posted: 08/30/10 06:00 AM

The next wave of apps may not come out of Silicon Valley but places like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

That’s what organizers of the Apps4Africa contest are hoping, anyway.

East African software developers are rushing to meet an August 31st deadline for the contest.  It’s sponsored by the U.S. State Department as well as three regional non-profits. The winners will get money and gadgets for coming up with the best apps to solve problems in East Africa. But more importantly, organizers say, is that the competition has jump-started a dialogue between developers and NGOs in these countries. And some of the software platforms recently developed in East Africa like Ushahidi are already getting widespread usage around the world. Last week, we looked at that platform’s use in flood-ravaged Pakistan.

We speak with one of the contest’s organizers, Josh Goldstein of AppAfrica. And we hear from one of the judges, Anil Dash, about what developers in the West could learn from emerging tech scene in Africa.

Comments | Filed Under: Africa apps sms

Smart phone apps at war

Posted: 08/05/10 06:00 AM

Your smart phone can do a lot of things: tell you the weather, play you some music, play video games. Or help you fight a war. There’s a boom going on right now in smart phone apps for the military. Apps that estimate bullet trajectory, apps that train you to run an anti-missile defense system, anything a soldier or officer might need, there’s, well, an app for that. Or at least there soon will be.

We hear from Luke Catania one of the winners of a recent contest held by the military for the development of apps to be used by the Army. We also talk to PW Singer, director of 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings, who says the efficiency, affordability, and easy distribution of apps makes them appealing to military brass. Singer also says that since many of the soldiers using the apps are 18 or 19 years old, they’ve grown up being somewhat native to the technology and it’s a lot easier to train them on a smart phone instead of a specially built piece of equipment.

Comments | Filed Under: military apps

Now everyone can build Android apps

 by John Moe // Posted: 07/12/10 11:06 AM

Google rolls out a free software program called Google App Inventor for Android today that lets anyone create apps for the Android platform. It makes it so you don’t have to know code, there’s a graphic interface and you just put it all together. It’s a very interesting proposition because it can bring Android closer to being a universal platform that’s highly democratic as opposed to the more closed Apple store. But it might also mean a whole lot of crappy apps showing up in the Android app store. It’s worth noting, as Tech Crunch does, that we’ve been down this road before with web sites. Originally, you had to know HTML and how to code a site. Then platforms and programs were developed where you could build your own. Trouble was, those sites looked terrible and the popularity of those programs dimmed and now our creativity tends to be expressed within confines like Facebook fan pages.

Comments | Filed Under: google android apps

Are you paying for apps you didn't want to buy?

Posted: 07/07/10 06:00 AM

When you think about it, 4th of July weekend was a great time to pull a heist online. People aren’t on the computer. They’re too busy barbecuing and watching fireworks to notice that someone’s stealing their money. But that’s exactly what happened over the past weekend and even as early as last week.  Some customers of Apple’s iPhone app store noticed some odd charges to their accounts recently for apps they never intended to download, some of them were a couple dollars but sometimes up to $100 or more. Meanwhile, in the app store “books” category, some titles you’ve never heard of - all from the same publisher- were suddenly showing up as best sellers. Apple now says it’s identified who was responsible and has kicked them out of the app store. They also advise you check your purchases and change your password.

Joshua Topolsky, editor in chief of the tech site Engadget, brings us up to speed on the story. And John Hering, founder and CEO of the online security company Lookout offers tips on keeping safe online.

We also hear strange news from Iran as Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin tells us about a new “robot man”.

Comments | Filed Under: apple iphone apps

Android can kill remotely

 by John Moe // Posted: 06/25/10 11:02 AM

Kill apps that is. The app store for the Android mobile platform identified two apps that it says violated the store’s terms of services. They were created by “a security researcher for research purposes” and misrepresented what the app was for, not delivering on what was promised. The apps did not pose a malware threat but still against store policy. So not only were the apps taken down from the store, they were remotely deleted on users’ phones. Android went on to peoples’ phones and removed them.  Amazon caused some controversy last year when it removed illegal editions of (ironically) 1984 from Kindles. They later apologized but Android says this is just store policy. Make no mistake: we don’t own things any more, we just license them.

Comments | Filed Under: amazon android apps

$1000 iPhone app is selling well

 by John Moe // Posted: 06/22/10 11:19 AM

BarMax is an app specifically designed to prepare you to take the California bar exam. It’s a massive piece of software (probably because bar exams are pretty massive too) and it’s priced massively as well, a thousand bucks. But that’s still a bargain compared with how expensive bar exam prep materials usually are. The company that makes BarMax says it’s selling well, they’re profitable, and they’re rolling out a New York version soon. The popular wisdom has always been that apps need to be cheap and need to become profitable by number of sales. Perhaps not so. It kind of proves the web content maxim too that people will pay for dedicated information more than general.

Comments | Filed Under: apps

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