Apple Comes Up Big On The iPhone 5S Unveil: What it Means for Healthcare

In 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage at the annual MacWorld convention to introduce the original iPhone. If you haven’t seen the original iPhone unveil (above) and the magic that Steve Jobs brought to his product releases, it’s certainly worth the four minutes to watch.

Steve Jobs’ ability to energize a crowd can’t be overstated. In the years since his death, the industry has had a consistently lukewarm reception to the product updates coming out of Apple. While it’s true that since his passing Apple has not revolutionized the technological landscape with a new device as they did with the iPod, and the iPhone, and the iPad, they have certainly brought their core product, the iPhone, a long way from its increasingly unfamiliar 2007 predecessor.

Here’s HIStalk Connect’s review of the new phone, and its implications for health and healthcare IT.

Fingerprint Authentication

With the iPhone 5S, Apple has done away with lock screens and passwords. To open the phone, users just press the home button, which houses a fingerprint scanner that learns the patterns and contours of its owner’s fingerprints the longer it is used. The result, as the video above demonstrates, is the ability to authenticate with one’s thumb just as easily as the front of the index finger.

The new feature introduces to important advancements for Apple users working in hospitals. First, Apple can make a far stronger and more compelling security case with hospital administrators trying to protect network integrity. The security implications of a clinician’s leave their phone in a common area or a patient’s room decrease significantly. The broader and more significant healthcare impact would be that the soon-to-be-released iPad 5 – the more common form factor for accessing EHR systems — will likely also deliver biometric authentication options.

While many systems are already authorizing access to EHRs through secure Citrix connections, a growing number of states are requiring that dual authentication methods be implemented in conjunction with CPOE systems. Ohio is a prime example, as the state’s board of pharmacy has set strong authentication laws that requires physicians to sign orders with both a PIN and then an additional form of authentication (such as biometrics) to legally sign orders. The DEA has also published dual authentication requirements in conjunction with e-prescribing of controlled substances. Between a EHR password and a fingerprint reader, Apple is officially first to market with a dual-authentication enabled smartphone.

Hardware

Apple is marketing the iPhone 5S as having a desktop-class architecture, and it is showcasing its new A7 64-bit processor as the centerpiece of this statement. Apple is claiming that the processor is twice as fast as its A6 predecessor. Independent benchmarking is clocking the A7 at a more modest but still impressive 31 percent jump in performance.

Apple’s iPhone 5S is the first smartphone to move to a 64-bit processor, an exciting advancement to be sure. However, the marketing hyperbole behind this particular enhancement may outshine the reality of the situation.

Sixty-four bit processors do not in and of themselves make computing faster. Devices are developed in three levels: the base hardware, the operating system, and the software applications that sit on top. Apple has delivered a phone with a 64-bit hardware base and a newly rewritten 64-bit operating system (iOS7) installed on top of it. Beyond that, virtually everything the end user will engage with is still 32-bit, and there are few compelling performance boosts (other than for a few graphic-intense video games) to lure app developers into make the jump to 64-bit.

M7 Dedicated Processor

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While the 64-bit processor may not revolutionize healthcare, Apple packed a powerful little brother into the phone with its M7 dedicated motion coprocessor. For mHealth app developers and quantified-self enthusiasts, this is the news of the day from the iPhone 5S launch.

The M7 coprocessor is an independent second processor solely dedicated to the task of reading and storing data from various motion sensors (still just an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a compass) that are being continually referenced by third-party apps.

The processor is paired with a new API called CoreMotion that will allow developers access to poll the accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer at regular intervals. Apple is also providing combined sensor data that can interpret movements and create contextual awareness of a user’s activity to optimize their experience accordingly.

The new processor will allow fitness apps to continuously track activity without draining the battery or slowing processing speeds for other applications. Apple describes the processor as capable of ushering in "a new generation of health and fitness apps." Nike is already working on a new phone-based activity tracker called Nike+Move (shown above) that will take advantage of the M7 processor.

Software

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iPhone 5S will ship with iOS 7, which CEO Tim Cook announced would be released on September 18 and is compatible with all models later than iPhone 4. The new operating system has been completely rewritten as a 64-bit operating system. Early reviews of iOS 7 focus largely on the entirely redesigned user interface. The operating system has embraced a flatter, simpler design that eliminates clutter and takes a minimalist approach to interface design.

iOS 7 is also now delivering a free copy of the Works suite (Apple’s competitor to Microsoft Office), which includes a text editor, a spreadsheet application, and presentation tool.

Camera

Apple all but threw out its original camera and replaced it with an entirely redesigned one. While the camera has seen enhancements in almost every measurable component of photography, the company decided not to increase the 8-megapixel resolution. This may come as a disappointment for some as the camera has grown to be every bit as important a clinical tool as motion sensors to many mHealth app developers. For example, Azumio has developed an app that accurately measures heart rate by placing a fingertip on the camera lens and snapping a picture.

While the camera resolution hasn’t grown, Apple has doubled the size of individual pixels, meaning that each pixel can absorb 50 percent more light. This will result in crisper photos with reduced noise. The phone also houses two flashes, white and amber. The flashes are capable of producing up to 1,000 different lighting intensities, which will be adjusted automatically by the camera’s software.

Finally, Apple has introduced an internal software change that has the camera take 10 photos in a one-second burst. The photos are then instantaneously analyzed, the best is retained and displayed to the user, and the rest are discarded.

Conclusion

Apple is a company long embraced by healthcare professionals. The new iPhone 5S brings a good deal to the table that will resonate with clinicians and fitness enthusiasts alike. Clinicians will appreciate the 30 percent increase in speed, and for those that need it, the ability to support dual-authentication from a phone. As EHRs move into the mobile space, smartphone prescribing is becoming a not-to-distant reality and the iPhone 5S positions itself well to serve a role in this capacity.

Motion tracking has moved into the center of Apple’s core infrastructure, a move not unlike Samsung’s when they incorporated a pedometer in the Galaxy S4 and developed their supplemental S Health app. Continued support of mHealth initiatives by big firms like Apple and Samsung demonstrate both the inherent value and strategic future these companies see in the growing mobile health market.

Apple has shouldered the responsibility of setting both the pace and direction of innovation in consumer electronics for the last decade. With so much pressure to maintain that pace of innovation, today’s unveil was about assuring consumers that the company is still an innovative powerhouse. While its undeniable that we lost that onstage presence and excitement when we lost Steve Jobs, there was plenty of signs from today’s iPhone 5S release to validate that Apple is a company capable of coming up big in a pressure situation.

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