Daniel Eran Dilger
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“Jesus Phone 3.0” touches diabetic blogger

Prince McLean, AppleInsider
During Apple’s iPhone 3.0 event, the presentation of a mobile-attached blood glucose monitor for diabetic users apparently bored some journalists in the room. However, the demonstration not only revealed Apple’s most important leap yet in mobile devices, but also answered the pleas of a diabetic blogger.

Almost a year ago, Amy Tenderich, a San Francisco blogger who maintains Diabetes Mine for people living with diabetes, penned an open letter to Steve Jobs, asking Apple to help apply the design savvy of the iPod to the medical devices that keep millions of people alive.

Speaking specifically about the blood glucose monitors or insulin pumps used by people living with diabetes, Tenderich asked Jobs, “have you seen these things? They make a Philips GoGear Jukebox HDD1630 MP3 Player look pretty! And it’s not only that: most of these devices are clunky, make weird alarm sounds, are more or less hard to use, and burn quickly through batteries. In other words: their design doesn’t hold a candle to the iPod.”

“What we need here” Tenderich wrote, “is a sweeping change in industry-wide mentality — achievable only if some respected Thought Leader tackles the medical device design topic in a public forum.” She recommended that Apple start a design contest, or assign the company’s design team to create some reference designs, or establish an Apple Med Design School offering courses on consumer design to engineers from pharma companies.

Tenderich’s plea was picked up by blogger Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, where it certainly caught Apple’s attention. Then nearly a year passed.

Rather than sponsoring a contest or coming up with its own designs, Apple did what it does best: it arranged to put its development tools in the hands of experts in the field who could solve the problem. Rather than making making medical devices look like the iPod, Apple made it easy for devices makers to work with the iPod and the iPhone.


The new accessory support in the iPhone 3.0 SDK will enable, not just a specific group of medical monitors, but a wide ranges of devices to benefit from the millions of dollars of research and development Apple has put into multitouch interfaces, mobile technology, human interface design, and the iTunes App Store.

Finding a killer app

Apple’s original Macintosh was mainly an elegant curiosity until it was launched into the mainstream by the laser printer, a component of Jobs’ Macintosh Office strategy to give the Mac a killer application.

Years after Jobs left the company, the Newton Message Pad, Apple’s first attempt to deliver a mobile device, failed to ever reach a level of utility that could justify its $1000 price tag. It had no killer applications. When Jobs returned to Apple, he gave Newton a year to turn around and then axed the product when it was clear it needed so much work that it would be obsolete before it could ever find a niche.

In its place, Apple created the iPod as a mobile device with a clear purpose: music playback. After rapidly growing into an empire, Apple parlayed its success into the smartphone market with the iPhone. With iPhone 3.0, Apple is not just adding features to its phone but rather broadening its mobile device platform into an entirely new product category.

The differentiating value of the iPhone isn’t that it can be used as a phone. Instead, it’s that it can run high quality, secure software that is easy to deploy, resulting in a cheap, high volume market for mobile apps. With the ability to control and record data from USB and Bluetooth devices, the iPhone and its iPod touch sibling are now far more powerful general purpose computers than the Newton, with more mature development tools and a far larger installed base.

A big platform

With 30 million devices now sold, Apple’s mobile platform represents a larger cohesive platform than Windows Mobile. That’s because the Windows Mobile installed base of 50 million (a large portion of which is now obsolete) is split between touch screen devices run by a stylus and non-sensitive “Windows Smartphone” devices with only button inputs; its various models all use different port connectors, some don’t have WiFi, all have different cameras and screen resolutions. The same can be said of Symbian phones and BlackBerry devices.

Apple’s unique App Store is being copied by every other phone vendor, but their various models don’t all run the same software. Most smartphones only run the operating system version that shipped with the phone, again leaving a fractured installed base. Even Sun’s Java ME, an effort to abstract the differences in various phone models, is plagued by incompatible differences and bugs in the various Java runtime implementations on each phone.

That leaves the iPhone and iPod touch among the largest (if not the largest) platforms available for developers to target. It’s also the most profitable, despite the fact that software is also the cheapest for users, typically only a couple dollars. Many phone developers have called its software development and deployment tools the best available.

These factors will all combine to enable experts in various fields to develop embedded devices that work with the iPhone, from stereo components to remote controls to gaming devices to medical sensors to bar scanner to diagnostic tools to gym equipment to environmental sensors to security devices and so on. Rather than only putting its resources to work in solving diabetes-related devices, Apple has empowered whole industries to solve their own challenges, using the iPhone as a hub for providing accelerometer input and multitouch controls, a sophisticated human interface with animated display feedback, logging and reporting features with statistics graphing and data visualization, and data upload to a computer or online service.

The pundits who mocked the device as the “Jesus Phone” are now experiencing its second coming.

  • UncleMiltie

    As a diabetic, that demo was the one that got me the most excited in the entire presentation. Unless you have had to live with the constant glucose monitoring and medication of being a diabetic, you really don’t understand how much simpler this could make your life. I know that I was already hitting LifeScan’s website to find out about availability and which meter was required to interact with the software before I had even finished watching the presentation. This product has enormous potential for people living with diabetes and will likely spur a significant number of sales of test equipment as well as iPhones or iTouches.

  • mr_kitty

    I’d be happy if apple just redesigned those handheld pos units at the apple stores to work with iTouches. (not to discount how major this release will be for those living with diabetes.)

  • http://www.lowededwookie.com lowededwookie

    The potential for the iPod Touch and the iPhone is now infinite. Imagine a medical company not bringing out a new iPhone compatible glucose reader but an attachment to the iPhone/Touch that just plugs into the Dock Connector. It would be smaller as it could use the software and battery capabilities of the iPhone/Touch and thus only require the hardware to read the blood itself.

    Existing hardware like the Apple Remote with FM Receiver could now work, and even the Apple Camera attachment could work on the iPhone/Touch because there is now a clear API to allow it.

    This is a way more exciting release than just copy and paste and MMS which not everyone cares about anyway.

  • http://bkpfd.org qka

    It should be noted that LifeScan, the maker of the unit shown at the 3.0 presentation, has a computer interface built in to their units already on the market. However, the software to use that interface is Windows only. Ask their marketing department about Mac software, and you get weasel words.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on LifeScan to deliver on this.

  • phil

    I thought the announcement about accessories was the most significant at the OS 3.0 event.

    While in application purchasing and subscriptions expand the ways developers can make money, the expansion of the SDK to allow control of external devices is a game changer.

    With the use of bluetooth, especially, we cannot imagine today what uses the iPhone will find even 2 years from now. While the dev tools in OS 1.0 and the App store with 2.0 put it almost uncatchably in front of the other mobile platforms, the ability to control devices will, I believe, fundamentally change how we interact with our expanding world of “tools”.

  • fatbarstard

    I can understand why the journalists got bored. The presentation by LifeScan was nauseating, and to my ear (I don’t live in the US) the tone of the presenter was like a chainsaw cutting through a flock of chickens. it was hard work.

    But what was being presented was just incredible… If Lifescan can do it the other companies producing equipment for diabetics then I should have a chance of getting something like that for my iPhone as well…

    Diabetes is a complete bitch, I should know. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But if I could get that software on my iPhone then life would seem to get a bit easier.

  • http://coderad.net StrictNon-Conformist

    Even though I’m not diabetic (AFAIK) I had had a discussion with a personal trainer about this sort of thing, because he is, and besides, diabetes is something that has befallen some of my family, and I know I’m at definite risk for it anyway, but the big thing is, this was back long before Apple announced they’d open up the SDK to controlling devices this way, and sadly, as much as I really wanted to work with it, I am not aware of any meters that use WiFi (that would have been what was required then) and there’s an absolutely huge hurdle involved with creating any devices or software for medical purposes in the form of regulations by the FDA, etc.

    However, even if the general population were all marathoners that kept up marathon training, and ate perfectly, I know very well there’d still be a HUGE market for diabetes management that’s as convenient as possible (there’s absolutely nothing convenient about it: I’ve got asthma/allergies, and have experience to a certain degree with inconvenience in being tied to objects you’d rather not want/need) and really, I see such things as these as something that can be dubbed with a new name:

    Life-Saver apps!

    Outside of the previously mentioned POS software that Apple should use to eat their own dogfood in their own stores (why not? Attach a credit card reader to the iPhone, your portable POS!) I know it’s only a matter of time before hackers and perhaps full companies do such fun things as using the iPhone/iPod Touch as a multimedia robot controller, as it has far more power in terms of RAM and CPU than anything I wrote software for machine tools in the past, and has a nice full-featured OS to go with it. As long as nothing needs to be seriously hard real-time, it should be perfectly fine: the very fact that there is no hard drive or swap file to even consider is actually a major advantage for such purposes!

    I’m just waiting for a new “Robot Wars” show on TV or cable, where instead of the cheap crap so-called “robots” that are merely glorified RC cars with weapons, they’re controlled with reprogrammable iPhones/iPod Touch units: anything controlled by a human, by definition, is NOT a robot, but if something is reprogrammable, it IS a robot, and automation that’s fixed and not reprogrammable… is merely fixed automation. From a definition POV, a CNC machine actually is a form of a robot, and a very powerful one at that, but hardly normal user-friendly to program, because there’s a lot involved :)

    Any company that does actually release the needed software and/or hardware connection for a diabetes (or other such important medical device/software) will not only be able to sell a lot of those for some decent, profitable price (Because that’s true value and utility) but also, Apple can’t help but profit from capturing some chunk as a side-effect of that: how many people are insulin-dependent diabetics, and how many people will keep becoming such? Not only that, but… it’s a utility that knows no cultural or language barriers for value: this may end up, to some degree, being a Trojan Horse application.

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