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Hello Doctor co-founders, from left, Ziv Meltzer, Maayan Cohen and Eran Keisar.

(Hello Doctor co-founders, from left, Ziv Meltzer, Maayan Cohen and Eran Keisar.)

When Maayan Cohen’s partner was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, she was suddenly thrust into a world of specialists, tests, recommendations and paperwork. It was overwhelming for the then 25-year-old Tel Aviv University biochemistry graduate, who was working as a senior analyst at Tel Aviv Strategic Consulting.

Midway through what would stretch into a two-year ordeal, Cohen realized there might be a better way of managing the process.

Her new mobile app, Hello Doctor, launched for Apple devices in August. The app allows patients and their case managers (like Cohen) to digitize and organize all the paperwork they currently carry in a binder. Results from blood tests, ER visits, surgeries, CT scans and more can be organized into “smart lists.”

Patients can then easily call up the right records and never succumb to what Cohen says is the case manager’s greatest nightmare: missing the one document your doctor needs to decide on the spot if you should go for more chemo, surgery or an alternative treatment … and your few minutes of precious face time are up and it’s on to the next patient.

The idea of patients carrying their medical records with them in electronic form is nothing new. More than a decade ago, technologies putting patient data on a chip embedded into their HMO card or on a USB thumb drive abounded, but they never gained traction. Cohen isn’t surprised.

“The execution wasn’t connected to reality,” she says. “Doctors won’t take the risk of putting a USB key into their computer. And many are techno-phobic even with websites. You can’t ask a senior oncologist in a top hospital to go to your personal medical portal and enter your password. Most doctors want you to bring in a paper copy.”

Tablet computers, however, are another matter. “We haven’t heard any objections to patients bringing in their records on an iPad,” Cohen continues. “85 percent of US doctors own a tablet. They’re not afraid of them. Rather, it saves them time. And perhaps most important, it doesn’t force the doctor to open his or her computer.”

Free for patients

There are several ways to get records into Hello Doctor. You can use the camera in your iPad to take a picture of a document. Or, if it’s already on your computer, you can copy it to Hello Doctor using the Dropbox file transfer application. Exporting test results directly from an HMO’s patient portal is in the pipeline.

Another feature, which Hello Doctor users have requested that’s also in development, is the ability to take notes using the app. “It’s our most requested feature,” Cohen says. The idea is to allow patients to write down questions about a test result or medication dosage, for example, right on the appropriate electronic record.

Once data is input into Hello Doctor, it’s stored locally on the patient’s iPad. “In another two months, we’ll release a version that will back up that information on the cloud and that will synch it to another device, such as the patient’s iPhone,” Cohen says. All data will be transferred using the industry-standard SSL security protocol.

hello-doctor-app

The backup and synchronization is key. If your iPad is stolen, your data is gone (just as if you lose your physical paperwork). Once the synch is in place, users will be able to instruct Hello Doctor to delete all the data from their mobile device via a Web interface. The app always requires a password, in order to keep your records as private as possible.

Still, some data does get sent beyond your iPad and the cloud. That forms the basis of the company’s business model. In the same way that Google scans your Gmail messages for keywords to serve up ads, Hello Doctor will look through your records (“anonymously and aggregated,” Cohen insists) to check on how a patient is responding to specific treatments – for example, is a particular medication causing nausea or vomiting? Hello Doctor will then sell that data to pharmaceutical companies “so they can make better decisions about future drug development,” Cohen says.

This is par for the course in the Internet age. Facebook is free because it owns your data and can provide it in the same non-identifiable way to advertisers. Hello Doctor’s success will hinge, in part, on whether users find enough value in the app to ignore any concerns about what’s being done with their records behind the scenes.

“It’s a win-win model,” Cohen stresses. “Patients don’t have to pay anything, they get a full integrated solution that will grow over time, and it helps pharmaceutical companies build better drugs.”

Cohen started Hello Doctor with two Israeli co-founders, Eran Keisar and Ziv Meltzer. The company has a staff of eight and works in Tel Aviv.

Hello Doctor competes most directly with Microsoft’s HealthVault, which is available for the Web and tablet devices, including the iPhone. A variety of other mobile apps allow you to input emergency information such as your allergies, which vaccinations you’ve taken and emergency contacts, but don’t sport the broader vision Cohen and her team have for Hello Doctor.

As for Cohen’s partner, there’s good news at the end of this story: After multiple surgeries and rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, he is now “100% cancer free,” Cohen says.

This article appeared originally on Israel21c.

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The Best iPhone and iPad Apps from Israel

by Brian Blum on October 3, 2011

in Israel,Mobile,Products

Whether you’re looking for something healthy to eat or trying to plot the best way home through rush-hour traffic, there’s an application for that on your iPhone or iPad. And if you look under the hood, you might just discover it’s made in Israel.

With its expertise in cellular technologies, a love affair with the cell phone, and a fast national adoption rate for the iPhone – despite the fact Israelis pay some of the highest prices in the world for the privilege – it’s not surprising that Israelis have plunged into development of iPhone applications.

ISRAEL21c combed through some of the best Israeli apps to come up with our top 10 blue-and-white list for the iPhone.

1. Fooducate

With a recent positive write-up in The New York Times, Fooducate is the latest darling of the Israeli iPhone app scene. And it’s healthy to boot. The concept is simple: before you buy a product at the grocery store, check out what’s really in it. If its bite is worse than its crunch, Fooducate will suggest an alternative that’s better for your body (if not for your pocketbook).

The app uses the iPhone’s built-in camera to scan a product’s bar code. Using its own proprietary algorithm, Fooducate counts up the nutrients and assigns a letter grade from A to D. The app is smart enough to spot cleverly disguised additives – did you know that “autolyzed plant protein” is just another way to say MSG?

Fooducate is primarily for products manufactured in the United States, and its database isn’t yet complete (the company encourages users to snap pictures of items they’d like to see covered and send them in).

2. FiddMe

FiddMe is also a food app, but it takes a very different approach than Fooducate. Rather than aiming to educate, FiddMe wants to turn eating into a worldwide social game – a kind of FourSquare for foodies.

FiddMe allows users to take pictures of great meals they’re eating (in real time) and post the snapshot and information about the restaurant to the cloud. Other FiddMe users can tap into the growing database of yummy recommendations. The service is integrated with other location-aware apps like FourSquare and Facebook. You can also post to Twitter or to the FiddMe website.

FiddMe is not competing directly with user-generated recommendation services like Yelp. Those focus on restaurants as a whole, while FiddMe drills down to the quality of the fettuccini. Not surprising from an app created by a bunch of self-described Israeli “foodies.”

3. Waze

Waze has tackled a problem we’ve all experienced – getting stuck in traffic and not knowing the best alternative routes – and crowd-sourced it. Users automatically add information about traffic tie-ups in real time – without having to do a thing. Waze tracks where drivers are via GPS. If there are more drivers than expected in a certain stretch of road, the Waze map will turn red.

So if Highway 101 is backed up coming into San José, Waze will instantly tell you if Interstate 280 is the better bet. That’s a whole lot faster than waiting for the radio to report the latest jams every 15 minutes. And it’s one of the reasons the service has proved incredibly popular, with more than two million drivers signed up.

The automated aspect to Waze is particularly welcome, since texting while driving is a big no-no. But users stopped at a red light can more proactively input traffic information. And to really keep things safe, Waze turns off the keyboard when the car is in motion – neat!

Waze has other features – such as allowing drivers to build maps together, create private groups to share tips, and even play interactive social games.

Waze is free, in keeping with its 2006 roots as an open-source project called FreeMaps. The service began in Israel but is available all over the world.

4. Viber

Within three days of Viber’s launch in December 2010, some one million people had downloaded it. Two months later, the number is up to an overwhelming 10 million. What’s all the fuss about? Viber, a free app, aims to be the Skype-killer, a voice-over-IP phone service that integrates seamlessly into your iPhone’s contact list and allows you to make free calls to other Viber users anywhere in the world.

The app is drop-dead simple: Install it, and any other Viber users in your contact list show a Viber icon. Since the Viber app runs in the background (and the company claims it doesn’t drain the phone’s battery like Skype does), calling that contact for free is a single tap away.

Viber also doesn’t require any registration (another step saved) and uses your phone number as your ID. Contrast that with Skype, where you have to sign up for a unique ID and use only the Skype app to make calls. Viber “officially” only supports the iPhone, but savvy callers claim it works on the iPad and iPod Touch as well. Android and BlackBerry versions are coming soon.

5. Fring

Fring is another made-in-Israel app that allows free phone calls. Unlike Viber, Fring piggybacks on existing phone networks like Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Facebook and more, acting as a universal communications center for voice, chat and even video calls. You open the Fring app and get a separate contact list; you can then call any friends on the list at no cost.

For friends not on the list, “Fring Out” calls start at one cent per minute (although that can jump to as high as 44 cents per minute for far-flung locations like Samoa and Zimbabwe).

Fring got a big boost when the iPhone 4 with its front-facing camera came out last year, making video calls a major attraction (the upcoming iPad 2 is rumored to have the same feature).

The app also has a “Fring Stream” that consolidates all your Twitter tweets and Facebook updates (plus, of course, any Fring chats and calls) in one place.

There’s one service that’s noticeably missing from the Fring roster: Skype. Fring used Skype’s network to enable video calls for several years until December 2010, when they parted ways. Fring claims Skype blocked its service; Skype says Fring had been misusing its software and decided to pull out on its own. Either way, Fring is slightly less useful than it was six months ago.

6. Babller

Babller is a simple iPhone app that was an obvious product to be developed in multilingual, multicultural Israel. The app allows you to post status updates to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in your preferred language and have it automatically translated into a variety of other lingos. The app works the other way around, too, translating posts you receive.

Babller is essentially Google Translate with built-in social networking integration. It’s not likely to be around for long – as soon as Google does its own Facebook translation mash-up, Babller will be out of here.

7. My6Sense

Owning an iPhone can quickly result in serious information overload. With your email, social network updates, tweets and RSS feeds all coming at you a mile a minute, you may find yourself sifting through hundreds (if not thousands) of messages and articles every day.

My6Sense aims to reduce the clutter by learning what you’re interested in and filtering the stream so that’s what you see. Focusing primarily on updates via RSS, My6Sense “learns” what you like by monitoring which articles you choose and which links you forward. You may view your subscriptions by most recent posts or by My6Sense recommendations.

What’s particularly cool is you don’t have to do anything – no tapping buttons to give a thumbs up or down to a particular piece of content, for example. The company calls its service “digital intuition” and it seems to be on to something. My6Sense has received media accolades including a “Best of 2010” award from ReadWriteWeb.

8. Libox

Consuming media on an iPhone or iPad is perhaps as popular as actually making a call. Despite its tiny screen, users love to watch video, show off pictures and, of course, listen to music. But how do you get your media content from your desktop computer or laptop onto your phone?

Apple’s answer is to synch via iTunes. But that requires plugging your mobile device into your computer. And you have to physically move files onto your phone, which means you can quickly bump up against your iPhone’s memory limit.

Israeli startup Libox lets you stream your media from home. There are two parts to the app – one that goes on your computer and scans your hard drives to find media, and a second that you download to your phone, which then streams the media from your computer via your regular cell service or WiFi. Libox also allows sharing media with friends, although that might put the company in hot water with copyright holders.

One downside: the app requires that your home computer be turned on with Libox running. That may not work for people whose laptops are their primary machine.

The company’s pedigree suggests that Libox will continue to innovate in future versions: The company’s founder is Erez Pilosof, who also founded Walla!, the Israeli equivalent to Yahoo and still an uber-popular Hebrew language site.

9. Touchoo

Buying your toddler an iPhone or iPod Touch is not as wacky an idea as it seems with Israeli startup Touchoo’s vision of creating interactive “touch” books for tykes. The company, which calls itself a publisher rather than a development house, has assembled a team of writers, illustrators, animators and programmers (all from Israel, for now) to create their touch books, and the company emphasizes that all book apps are made under the supervision of a developmental psychologist.

Featured first books include Benny the Cat and the touch-screen appropriate Thumbelina (based on the original classic from Hans Christian Andersen). Some of the books are available in multiple languages. Touching not only changes pages but triggers interactive fun (an animated character may jump out and sing).

Touchoo’s concept has already been proven … 20 years ago. When the first round of interactive multimedia products was being released on CD-ROM, one of the most popular genres was animated storybooks that both entertained and taught. Touchoo has simply updated a proven concept to the 21st century, where a click of the mouse has been replaced by a tap of a finger.

10. Appsfire

Appsfire is an app that lets you find other apps. Sure, you can always go searching in the Apple App Store or visit an app review site. But Appsfire uses the power of the crowd to recommend the best apps. As an Israeli company, its roster of “VIP” experts making recommendations is mostly culled from the Israeli tech scene; that will change as the app gains traction around the world. And there are plenty of “regular” users adding their favorite apps.

There’s also a separate iPad version called Appstream that, as its name suggests, has a moving stream of apps. You can tap on an app to preview it, and tap again to share a recommendation with friends or to buy the app. You can filter by just iPad apps or by free apps.

Appsfire and Appstream, by the way, are both free. Appsfire takes a cut of sales from app developers via an affiliate model.

This post originally appeared in March 2011 on the Israel21c website.

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Does radiation from cell phones cause cancer? The jury is still out, with a recently released 10-year study organized by the World Health Organization saying no, and advocacy groups arguing that the research methodology was flawed.

Cell La Vie - peel on protection for your iPhone

Regardless of the controversy, a small Israeli startup isn’t taking any chances. In July, Wise Environment began selling a do-it-yourself kit to protect iPhone owners from radiation. The company claims that its product, dubbed Cell La Vie, reduces electromagnetic exposure from the phone by 98 percent.

The Wise Environment founders are on a mission. “Parents are driving their young kids to use cell phones, to keep in contact,” explains Ronny Gorlicki, Wise Environment’s vice president of business development. “But at the same time, they want to protect them from future problems,” even if it’s not certain that those problems really exist.

At only NIS 179 ($47), Gorlicki feels his product is a worthwhile investment “to defuse the question of what will happen 30 years down the road.”

Cell La Vie can be a bit daunting to install – it’s not a one-click software app, but a physical product – a thin film you apply to the front, back and sides of your iPhone with adhesive. The Cell La Vie kit also includes a spray and pump to make sure your phone is totally clean before you get started. “People are reticent in the beginning, fearful that they’ll screw things up,” Gorlicki says. “But it’s no problem to take it off and do it again. We’ll even send a replacement if necessary.”

Once affixed, the film acts to redirect radiation away from the body. “Inside the phone is an antenna,” Gorlicki explains. “The signal goes in all directions. We had to figure out how we can cover up the points where the radiation would penetrate the phone in the direction of the body while maintaining the quality of the transmission.”

Wise has so far focused only on the iPhone because of the extensive media buzz surrounding the device. “Even people who haven’t bought it are talking about it,” Gorlicki says, noting the “huge awareness in the market of ‘green’ in general and phone radiation in particular. We hear from people ‘I’d held back from buying an iPhone from concern about radiation. Now I just made the order because of your product.’ ”

Since every phone has its antenna in a different place, Wise will have to develop separate films for every type of phone – and for every version. For example, Cell La Vie doesn’t yet work with the iPhone 4, which has an entirely different type of antenna (one that has caused users no end of frustration due to inadvertently dropped calls).

Cell La Vie's Ronny Gorlicki

Wise is also focusing initially on smart phones. “They’re the ones with the higher price tag,” Gorlicki explains, “So people are more ready to invest in safeguarding themselves from radiation.” Smart phones, ironically, can increase their radiation levels as they detect signal strength. The lower the strength, the more the phone has to work to maintain a minimum quality of service, and as a result the radiation increases.

Wise Environment has other radiation-protection products in the pipeline (including one that may actually reduce radiation, not just guard against it) but is progressing slowly. That’s in no small part because the company is entirely bootstrapped; it’s relying now on sales from its iPhone product, which is available in Israel at iDigital’s Apple Stores and the stationary chain Kravitz, to finance future production. Gorlicki is optimistic and says sales are going well, pointing out that “There have already been reorders.”

However, given the company’s scarce cash situation, sales beyond Israel will have to rely on distributors. Gorlicki doesn’t anticipate opening a US or European office in the near future. And even if the patent pending Cell La Vie is as successful as anticipated, Gorlicki says that raising venture capital money will be tough.

He likens the Cell La Vie product to a mezuzah: “You don’t know if it has prevented some hardships or brought good things to you,” he quips. “There’s no immediate gratification in that sense.” He says that the problem is with the VCs, who want to see immediate results.

This is not Gorlicki’s first outing with a product that doesn’t deliver satisfaction on first use. In a previous position at Wizcom, he was in charge of marketing the ‘Quicktionary’ – a digital pen that you run over printed text to translate it into multiple languages. “There was a real learning curve,” Gorlicki recounts, “You had to hold the pen correctly, to start and end it in the right place.”

Cell La Vie is not alone in the market; one of its better-funded competitors is Pong Research, which has been reviewed widely, including in Wired Magazine and The New York Times. But Pong, by its own estimates, only reduces radiation by 60 percent and only from the front of the phone, Gorlicki points out. Both Pong and Wise have had their results verified, in Cell La Vie’s case at MET Labs, a California testing and certification company.

Gorlicki is proud that his product is entirely made in Israel and hopes that even as production ramps up in the future, the company will be able to resist the pressure to export manufacturing to China or another less-expensive location.

He says he would be delighted to cooperate with Tawkon, a company whose product indicates to smart phone users when their radiation levels are too high. They would be a good match because Tawkon detects the radiation and prompts users to take simple actions like “put the phone on speaker,” while Cell La Vie actually does something about the radiation emanating from the unit itself.

Regarding the WHO study, Gorlicki draws attention to the fact that the research was in part funded by the phone companies themselves. The study followed thousands of phone users in 13 countries to see whether people who had brain tumors reported spending more time on cell phones during the previous decade than other people did. The researchers reported that they couldn’t find any cancer correlation with cell phone use.

The study’s main purpose, Gorlicki claims, was to give federal agencies a benchmark of when radiation levels are too high. If the companies stay within those levels, they’re considered ‘kosher.’ But, he says, “we really don’t know how much and how long it would take for someone to reach proportions so high that he or she will get cancer.” Researchers are now considering a new, even longer study of up to 20 years.

Not to mention that cell phone usage has increased dramatically and phones have advanced technologically in the 10 years since the study was started. What might have been considered ‘average’ use in 2000 would pale in comparison with teenage cell phone use in 2010.

Perhaps the ideal scenario for Cell La Vie would be cooperation with, or acquisition by a cell phone manufacturer or operator. But Gorlicki isn’t optimistic: “They don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ he says, explaining that involvement could be construed as an admission that cell phone use might not be 100% safe.

Even with Cell La Vie’s protective film in place, cell phones still pose a danger – to your neighbor. Gorlicki compares phone radiation to secondhand smoke. “You could be getting secondhand radiation from the guy sitting next to you in a restaurant talking on his cell phone,” he warns. Will there eventually be cell phone-free environments, he wonders.

Beyond being potentially dangerous to bystanders, Gorlicki reminds us that cell phone use requires “good hygiene.” Even if you’re using a corded headset, you don’t want to stuff your phone in your pocket while you talk. The phone still emits the same amount of radiation. Holding it away from your body or placing it on a table is the safest bet.

Gorlicki is doing his best to live in his own ‘wise’ environment – the company’s headquarters are in his home just off of the HaBonim beach south of Haifa, in northern Israel. “I wake up and take the dogs on a walk near the shore,” he says. “What a way to start the day when you’re working for an environmentally conscious company.”

This article appeared last week on Israel21c, a great site for exploring Israel “beyond the conflict.” Check it out!

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My Day with the iPad

by Brian Blum on June 30, 2010

in Media,Products

Totally drool-worthy

Last week, I hired a team to design and build a cool new iPad app for me (more on that in the coming weeks). The problem was that, at the time, I’d never actually held or used an iPad. So I was truly delighted when my friend Mitch Simon, who runs a successful coaching business in San Diego and was visiting us over the weekend, offered to leave his iPad with me for a day while he went out to tour the country.

Here, then, are ten comments from my day with the iPad.

1. First of all, it’s totally drool-worthy. I don’t know why, but when you pick it up and start to play with it, you immediately fall in love. Especially kids. I had a gaggle of children, ages 13 and under, begging to touch it, swipe it, shake it and turn it around so the screen reformats this way and that. I wanted it for business reasons; they were all about the fun. And Steve Jobs is right: it really is the best way to interact with the web.

2. I can touch type on it. Unlike the iPhone, where I’m all thumbs (literally), the virtual keyboard on the iPad in landscape mode is just big enough to let me type normally. That makes the iPad an ideal device to take to a lecture or conference. I found Apple’s Pages word processing program easy-to-use and intuitive (if not as powerful as Word on my Mac). Add in the long-life battery and the iPad is, as some controversial pundits have already claimed, a NetBook killer. And for all the naysayers who say you need to “feel” the click of a real keyboard, I say – get over it. You will get used to it.

3. Typing on the iPad has one big disadvantage over a laptop: unless you’ve attached an external keyboard, the iPad has to lie flat on a table or desk. That makes it hard to fully take advantage of the benefit of the screen – it’s angled away from you. It works OK if you have your feet on the couch, but didn’t your mother teach you never to do that?

4. As print newspapers begin to be phased out, reading the paper over breakfast is something the iPad will be great at. Although I’m not a regular reader of USA Today, the app version is superb and immediately intuitive. The fonts were big enough for even my middle-aged eyes. One disadvantage: if your fingers get dirty or sticky (eating pancakes or anything with syrup), that’s going to muck up your screen much more than a smudge on a printed paper.

5. It’s still too heavy for reading in bed. I want a device that’s as light as a paperback that I can hold in one hand (you know, like a Kindle). The iPad is somewhere between that and a hard cover book. But otherwise, the screen is brilliant and some of the tricks – like highlighting text and taking notes – are really helpful. And I know it’s just a “gimmick,” but the animation for flipping the pages really is fun

6. Despite the weight in bed, walking around with the iPad is a pleasure. My friend Mitch put his iPad in a leather case and it feels like one of those “old fashioned” diary books that I used to carry so long ago. Think of it as a slightly hefty yellow note pad. I found myself bringing the iPad everywhere with me.

7. The bathroom test – come on, you know at some point you’re going to want (or need) to hold the iPad while on the toilet instead of a newspaper or book. So, to be comprehensive, I gave it a spin. Here it works better than reading a book in bed: I don’t mind using both hands to hold it and it’s great having a variety of reading material in case your stay in the washroom is, um, a bit lengthy.

The kids can't get enough

The kids can't get enough

8. Pictures look fantastic on the iPad – so much so that I can’t imagine ever printing out photos and placing them in an album again. Before the iPad, it was a bit awkward having to pull out a laptop or ask friends and family to crowd around my desktop screen to see snapshots from our latest vacation. The iPad takes it to the couch. And it’s a whole lot more convenient than carting over 17 albums worth of photos (of course, digitizing all those albums will be a major undertaking).

9. Ditto for video – it’s like having one of those dedicated DVD players they used to give out in business class in airplanes before the built-in TVs came out – except a whole lot smaller. And it’s just big enough to share – at least a couple people at once (I wouldn’t try to watch Date Night on an iPad with the gang).

10. Biggest pet peeve – no front facing camera. Come on Apple, we know you’re just holding back until next year so you can generate more sales, but I want to be able to video Skype or FaceTime with my family when I’m on the road (or in bed – what is it that makes me want to snuggle up with the iPad). This may be the killer app…why do we have to wait?

So, did I add anything new to the discussion? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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Gil Friedlander, Tawkon CEO

Gil Friedlander, Tawkon

What do you do when you suspect something’s bad for you but you just can’t stop doing it? That’s a question many cellular phone users have been asking themselves, with reports of radiation emissions from their mobile devices raising serious questions about the safety of our increasingly un-tethered society. A new Israeli startup may have the solution.

Tawkon has entered the fray with an inexpensive application for the iPhone that warns users when radiation levels have inched up too high and provides advice on how to counter the potentially negative effects.

The company says that its solution gives users the information and tools to avoid mobile phone radiation as much as possible by “mapping” their homes or offices so they’ll know where they’re exposed to significant levels of mobile phone radiation. It also supplies simple precautionary measures to minimize radiation, based on a user’s location and phone usage.

However, you won’t find this app on your iPhone any time soon, because Apple has banned it. Apple says that Tawkon is a diagnostic tool that would create confusion for iPhone owners from a usability perspective. Tawkon believes that Apple doesn’t want its customers to install an app that appears to advise them to talk less – even though its stated aim is to make it safe for them to “talk on.”

Tawkon founder and CEO Gil Friedlander is taking it in his stride. He says that his company is in discussions with Apple and that he is “optimistic and hopeful that the issue will be solved soon.” He insists that he’s not an anti-cell phone zealot. “We love our phones, too,” he says of the Tawkon team. “We won’t give them up. But we can help people use them more responsibly.”

In the meantime, the company is pressing forward with porting the application to other devices, starting with the Blackberry then expanding in the coming year to cover Google’s Android operating system and the Symbian OS used by Nokia phones.

Friedlander describes the Tawkon app as “like infrared goggles – suddenly you can see at night. We view ourselves the same way. We give users the ability to see and feel non-ionizing radiation. Once you know whether you’re in a red, orange or green zone, you have the information you need to take action.”

That action might be to move to a different location until the radiation levels drop, or to plug in a headset or use a speakerphone in your car.

Tawkon can’t actually measure a phone’s radiation – it’s just software after all – so the app relies on processing a dizzying array of factors, including your location, environmental factors such as the weather, Bluetooth functionality, how close your phone is to your body (utilizing the iPhone’s proximity sensors), antenna orientation (are you holding the phone vertically or horizontally), GPS and even the phone’s built-in compass. The app then prompts users with a vibration or tone when the radiation levels reach a dangerous threshold.

Some of the worst places to talk in terms of radiation are a room with thick concrete walls (a basement, elevator or, in Israel, the sealed room mandated from the time of the first Gulf War), and a moving vehicle (such as a train, car or bus) when the phone is switching off between cellular broadcast towers. In all these cases, the phone has to work harder to connect to a signal, hence the radiation goes up.

In some cases, the locations where radiation is highest can be surprising. “In my apartment, radiation in the washroom is high,” Friedlander says, “while the rest of the house is decent.” In 80 to 85 percent of cases, there’s “good coverage and radiation is pretty low, especially in an urban area,” reassures Friedlander.

No one knows exactly how – or even whether or not – radiation will cause serious medical problems in another 10 years, but the government isn’t taking any chances. Israel’s health ministry has recommended that children under the age of 18 shouldn’t use mobile phones at all – young people’s brain tissue is still developing. In the US and Europe, however, similar precautionary warnings have not been issued.

Friedlander and his staff of six in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya have been working on the Tawkon technology for 18 months now, going live with the still unclear iPhone version earlier this month. The app will be marketed direct to consumers via the various hardware manufacturers’ app stores for just under $10 a download.

Down the road, Friedlander says, he would be “delighted to partner with cellular phone operators,” where he believes that a tool to bring real value and safety to customers would be an absolute win/win. “We are aware that it’s challenging for them,” Friedlander admits. “For many years, they’ve just not addressed the issue.”

Friedlander is originally from Canada and studied at McGill University in Montreal. Tawkon has raised money from private investors in Canada, the US and Israel. Is he looking for larger investors? Probably not. “I don’t see the company as a big venture capital play,” he says. “It’s not a very capital intensive business. We don’t require tens of millions of dollars.”

If the app sells well – and Friedlander reports that the company has received thousands of inquiries since the TechCrunch blog about technology startups broke the story of the Apple ban – a small company like Tawkon could do quite well for its owners, partners and employees. The press is certainly interested. Tawkon has been inundated with press requests, from the Washington Post in the US to Channel 2 and The Marker business and technology print and online newspaper in Israel.

With the total number of cell phones in use said to be some four billion, and of these half a billion smart phones, Friedlander is optimistic that “it’s almost like an endless market.”

Ultimately, Tawkon is not all about the money. “Most of the time, you develop and sell a technology that reduces costs for a phone operator,” Friedlander says. “We were looking for something that can make an impact on the well-being of our friends, family and community. Being able to help the user is very important. We saw a real opportunity.”

This story on Tawkon first appeared on Israel21c and has since been written about by a number of top international newspapers and magazines.

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Video capabilities are a game changer

Not quite a game changer

With the much rumored and insanely anticipated Apple iSlate, due to be announced later this month, being referred to as a potential “game changer,” as momentous as the original iPod and its big cousin the iPhone, I thought I’d take a look back at a post I wrote in September in which I called the new iPod Nano a game changer itself.

At the time, I hadn’t actually gotten my hands on one. That finally happened last week. And I’m sorry to report that my prediction now seems premature.

My enthusiasm for the Nano was that it was the absolute smallest, decent quality video camcorder on the market, and it had a built in iPod to boot (or maybe it’s the other way around). It would be a boon to bloggers and media publishers of all sizes, not to mention consumers shooting silly cat tricks, I wrote.

And indeed, that potential is readily apparent. I have a client that works with communities in far flung places such as India, China and Burma. Why not arm its constituents with Nanos to document lifecycle events and send them back to us to edit and post on YouTube or Facebook.

When I finally tried out the Nano itself – at a rock concert where I needed a clip to accompany an article I was writing – the Nano neatly delivered on its promise: the device is so tiny I was able to keep it stowed safely in my shirt pocket, and it warms up fast so I was ready at the beginning of each song to grab the shots I wanted. The video quality was entirely acceptable; the audio less so.

So what’s the problem? It doesn’t have a camera; it’s just video. That might seem a bit nit picky, but the market today is all about convergence – reducing the number of devices you need to carry. The iPhone does this perfectly: it packs a phone, camera, video recorder, MP3 player and web browser all-in-one shiny black package.

But the iPhone (like most smart phones) is relatively hefty. It doesn’t fit into a pocket, it’s too bulky to wear on an armband while exercising and, frankly, it does more – and costs more – than many people need.

The Nano has the price and form factor I want, but without a camera for stills, if I want to be ready at any time and any place to shoot a photo and a video, I have to carry both my Nano and my digital camera. My cell phone doesn’t take pictures at high enough quality to make it a worthy alternative.

Why didn’t Apple include a camera in the iPod Nano? Probably to prevent cannibalization of sales of its higher end i-products (although the official rumored reason is that they couldn’t get the optics small enough to work). Perhaps the camera will be a part of the package in the future – along with a tiny wireless receiver, now wouldn’t that be cool! – but before then, the business buzz will have already moved on to the iSlate as the next game changer.

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In case you were wondering how that video I shot at the rock concert came out, here’s a short clip I took with the iPod Nano. The audio is a bit muffled, but I think that’s more due to where we were sitting (in the front row, where the instrument amps were closer) than the iPod’s functionality.

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Why the New iPod Nano is a Game Changer

by Brian Blum on September 10, 2009

in Products

Video capabilities are a game changer

Video capabilities are a game changer

There was lots to like in yesterday’s iPod announcements from Apple. But the most important was the addition of a camera and video functionality to the venerable iPod Nano. Apple practically invented the MP3 market and continues to dominate player sales. The iPhone changed consumer’s perceptions about what a fully-featured smart phone must include.

Now Apple is expanding its reach into video, directly taking on the popular Flip as an in-your-pocket always there live motion recording device. What’s significant is that it’s a completely new market for Apple and if the company applies its usual business savvy, it could grab significant market share.

Yes, it’s true that the iPhone already allows you to take video, but that device is much larger – too big, for me at least, to comfortably fit in a pocket. And with the required phone contract, it’s nowhere near as cheap as a Nano – $150 for an 8 GB unit that records in 640×480 quality (that’s twice the memory as the Flip, by the way).

It’s also true that nearly every cell phone sold today can take video, but if you’ve ever seen the quality of the resulting clips, you’ll be underwhelmed.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to snap some video but didn’t want to lug around my Canon camcorder, which itself was much smaller than my previous Hi8 machine. On our recent vacation, I brought the Canon but never took it out of my backpack. Not once.

The video quality of the new Nano should be about that of the original Flip and the pricing is identical. That’s not quite what I’d want – the $199 Flip HD takes much better video, and I’m sure Apple will release a Nano HD, though we may have to wait awhile. Apple has given the Nano a few special effects, but not the fancy video editing that the iPhone has.

One downside (and it’s a biggie): the Nano ONLY takes video. You can’t use it as a still camera. That means I’ll have to lug around a regular digital camera. And there’s no wireless (not that I expected that) like the iPhone where you can post those candid videos online immediately.

Why no stills? Steve Jobs told The New York Times that adding high pixel resolution including autofocus would have bulked up the device too much.

All told, if Apple executes well on this one, it could definitely be a game changer in the pocket video space, meaning even more YouTube videos of cats flushing toilets and fat kids waving light sabers. But for businesses it will also mean faster product demos, shots from conferences, interviews, home video tours (great for Realtors), and even documentation of in-house meetings.

Two other new features of note in the improved Nano:

FM radio tuner

A number of years ago, I bemoaned the fact that no iPod could pick up radio stations. When I visit a country outside of Israel, I enjoy listening to the local radio stations. It gives me a feel for a city’s vibe. But now I rarely listen to terrestrial radio, preferring Internet-only stations like Radio Paradise and WOXY.

The iPod Nano’s radio tuner has some cool features – like the ability to pause your broadcast up to 15 minutes and to see which song is playing, then click to buy it later from iTunes – but for the most part this feature seems too little too late.

Pedometer

The Nano has long been Apple’s iPod of choice for joggers like me who primarily want a small device that you can strap on your arm. So the addition of a pedometer is a welcome feature. How many kilometers is that one-hour jog? Now I’ll know without having to carry a second device.

There are other goodies in the new Nano too that bring it closer to the app-centric Touch and iPhone without sacrificing its sleek form factor. Now, what I’d really like? A tiny iPhone, the size of a Nano. No rumors yet, but knowing Apple, anything is possible.

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