Posts Tagged ‘iPad’

Now the iPad can measure your vital signs

November 18, 2011

How excited do you get playing with your iPad? Would you give up your lunch hour to spend a few precious moments staring into its ten inches of LCD loveliness? Philips thinks there are plenty of us who would, and they have developed the VitalSigns app to provide us with an excuse – if we feel we need one.

You place your iPad on a table, set the app running and then just look at the screen. The iPad’s camera tracks tiny colour changes in your face – undetectable to the human eye – and equates them to heart rate. It also detects the movement of your chest to calculate how fast you’re breathing.

The disclaimer says that the app is strictly for fun – you can email the results or post them to Facebook or Twitter – and that readings are not intended for diagnosis or clinical monitoring or decision making. While this may sound a trifle strange, in the wider world the app is part of an emerging trend of self-measurement. There is, according to a recent article in MIT Review, a growing movement of ‘self trackers’ – fitness fanatics, geek obsessives and the genuinely ill – who are using an array of new gadgets to obtain near-constant feedback on their health. Building on techniques used in sport and hospital intensive care wards, these devices allow the user to monitor, record and analyse different health-related functions.

Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. Smart meters that report back details of our energy use are now old news, even if we haven’t quite got round to installing them yet. The Philips device and similar self-tracking systems are just part of the first wave of technology that feeds data back to us.


Hey Apple, where’s the e-paper?

February 2, 2010

Simon Jenkins writes in Friday’s Guardian:

“I am amused that each development of the e-book renders its pages more like print on paper. Its LED gets more like daylight, its page-turning more finger-friendly, its packaging more appealing”.

His point is that e-books seem to be trying to replicate the experience of reading a ‘real’ book, but in fact the comment about LEDs becoming more like daylight disguises an important technology issue and it is one of the distinguishing features between previous e-readers and the Apple iPad. That is, we have the e-book, but where’s the e-paper?

To date, the e-books that everyone has heard about have used electronic paper – essentially a black and white screen that replicates the optical properties of paper and is therefore easy to read. Vast research efforts have gone into this, particularly from UK companies such as Cambridge University spin-off, Plastic Logic. These displays can be read for long periods of time, in a variety of light conditions (without eyestrain), and use far less energy than conventional displays. This therefore means lighter batteries, a significant factor in the weight of any portable device. Whilst these factors were all meant to help an e-reader seem more like a book, they have also resulted in e-paper devices being more environmentally friendly devices than standard laptops, in terms of in-use energy consumption at least.

What’s interesting about the Apple iPad is that it is not moving in this direction. It features an LED backlit display and Apple seems to be gambling on the added interest of a colour screen to override any shortfall in readability (colour e-paper displays are not yet available commercially due to quality and design issues). As an e-reader its primary function seems to be dedicated to making Apple a major player in the electronic book market through its iBook service. In this respect I’m sure Apple will be successful and unless a colour e-paper product (or equivalent) comes along fairly sharp-ish it seems at least possible that their new device might kill the e-paper product category.

Forget ubicomp, think sofacomp

January 21, 2010

Just before Christmas I took delivery of a WikiReader a small, handheld device that has the entire contents of Wikipedia stored on it. It’s a simple little thing – basically a souped-up version of those little electronic dictionaries that have been around for years. Hit the search key, type in a search term through the touch-screen keyboard on the black and white, 7cm square screen and it will display a list of options for you to select the right Wikipedia entry.

I decided to road test the device during the family Christmas. Obviously Wikipedia is always changing, but it seems to be stable enough for most articles (and you can order updated memory cards). In fact, it was a massive hit and saw near continuous action on the sofa. Whenever anyone had a question about a TV programme that was on, or an actor on the screen, or a word they needed the meaning of, or details of a place they were reading about in the paper, the cry went up to ‘pass the Wikireader’. Based on this experience I think the company in question may have a bit of a hit on their hands.

All this has helped my thinking around the endless speculation about Apple’s iSlate. If the device turns out to exist and if it is some kind of all-in-one tablet that provides access to a range of multimedia – e-books, films, music etc – then it could have a real place on the sofa. Who wants to get off the chair and head upstairs to log on to use the PC or fish the laptop out of the briefcase? The iSlate will just sit on the arm of the sofa. In our house at least, the WikiReader has shown the way. The next step in computing is to the sofa.