First look: Todoist for iOS gets smarter and better-looking with new, free features

The popular task management app on Tuesday rolled out a brand new version for iOS that sets the stage for a dramatic, platform-wide overhaul. Some 4 million people use Todoist to add 510,000 projects daily, and share an average of 52,000 tasks a day across millions of projects. Todoist founder and CEO Amir Salihefendic told me his team has been working to make the task management tool’s mobile apps as powerful as its desktop version, and with version 10, they have finally succeeded.

“A few years ago. you could only do a simple list and nothing else,” Salihefendic said. “Now we have made the mobile apps as powerful as our desktop apps, and I think they are easier to use and more intuitive.”

A slew of new (free!) features

There are immediately obvious changes: Version 10 gives Todoist a makeover that makes every interaction cleaner and simpler to use. There are also now 10 themes to choose from, so you can swap in tangerine, blueberry, or a neutral shade for the Todoist red.

todoist projectTODOIST
Todoist now lets you easily edit and reorganize tasks across multiple projects.

But the new Todoist for iOS goes beyond a fresh face. The app’s new features are subtle but convenient. The two biggest changes are multi-task editing, which lets you change due dates, delegate, and move multiple tasks from one project to another, and more intelligent scheduling, so you can create tasks with unique start and end dates like, “Run 5 miles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 a.m. from May 1 through November 1.” Todoist has always been able to parse deadline dates/times as you type, but now it’s even smarter—and the app’s in-line adding can recognize 10 languages.

Todoist’s overhauled date-parsing is one of the features that will take time for its users to discover, but it’s also what sets the app apart, Salihefendic said. More than 50 percent of Todoist tasks include dates, so the company decided to make those dates “much more powerful” in a way that no other to-do list app has done.

Another new feature is one I didn’t even realize I wanted until I had it: the ability to pull apart two tasks to add one in between. You can also use a long press to reorder projects, move sub-tasks from one project to another, and collapse or expand tasks or projects.

All of the new features, minus a few of the themes, are available in the free version of Todoist. Premium users can pay $29 a year to unlock labels, task reminders, location reminders, calendar synchronization, productivity tracking, and the complete library of color schemes.

Glimpse of early galaxy formation captured for the first time


VANCOUVER – A discovery by a team of astrophysicists including UBC researchers promises to have major implications for the understanding of how structures in the universe formed 10 billion years ago. Hidden within images of some of the oldest light in the universe, the team identified what they believe are galaxies clumping together into the larger galaxy clusters we know today.

Data for the study came from the observations of two European Space Telescope missions, Planck and Herschel, and the work of an international team of astrophysicists including researchers from the University of British Columbia. The Planck telescope catches light from the early days of the universe, known as the cosmic microwave background, while the Herschel telescope allowed researchers to zero in on some of the objects they saw in the Planck telescope data.

“The objects found by Planck appear to be clumps of young galaxies, seen early in the history of the universe,” said Douglas Scott, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UBC. “By studying them we may be able to learn how clusters of galaxies form and evolve.”


The main panel shows the entire sky projected onto an oval, with emission from our Milky Way Galaxy in a band across the centre. The black dots are the new objects and the Herschel images from 9 of them are indicated in the surrounding panels. These may be clusters of galaxies caught in the process of forming.

The universe is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old. In the early days, stars and galaxies formed quickly and assembled into large clusters. Today’s universe is full of these clusters of galaxies but researchers don’t understand how they formed.

In the study, the Planck telescope captured 10 billion year-old light and researchers identified the interesting objects they now believe are galaxy clusters. The results also offer researchers a unique opportunity to see galaxies when they were young; today’s nearby galaxies are quite old.

Scott and UBC graduate student Todd MacKenzie are now working to understand the Planck objects better by studying them at a range of other wavelengths.

“What’s exciting is that we don’t know if we’re looking at something really bizarre or if these clumps are what would be expected. It will change our view of how these structures form,” said Scott.

The Canadian contributions to both the Planck and Herschel satellite are supported by the Canadian Space Agency.

SanDisk announces bundles for Flashsoft smart caching range

Platform-independent caching for most used data
Tue Mar 31 2015, 14:56
SanDisk headquarters

SANDISK HAS ANNOUNCED Flashsoft 3.7, a smart caching and software system that uses technology picked up from the firm’s acquisitions of Flashsoft and is a data centre flash company that SanDisk bought last summer for a cool $1.1bn, while Flashsoft was acquired in 2012.

The caching process stores the ‘hot data’ most frequently accessed on low latency, super fast SSD, thus significantly speeding up access times for business-critical data.

The INQUIRER got the lowdown from Rich Petersen, SanDisk’s head of enterprise marketing.

“There are two hand-in-hand announcements here. The first is that Flashsoft software is being refreshed across all platforms, including Windows, Linux and VMWare,” he said.

“The big news is that we now support Hyper-V, and we’ve added support for shared clusters and Windows failover clusters. We’ve now been declared VMWare Customer Verified and Supported Product status.

“Meanwhile in Linux, it’s about the broadening of our kernel support for the Red Hat and Suse families.”

SanDisk is best known for its hardware provision, but the firm plans to create bundled offerings of software and hardware, as Petersen explains.

“This will apply to the existing products in the line, plus the new ones such as those being developed by before the takeover, so we’re able to offer software and hardware bundles in a range of form factors, with 12 new products that we think are going to simplify caching technology,” he said.

“There’s one product to buy. There’s one throat to choke. There’s one name to trust.”

Petersen is keen to make it clear that this does not tie customers into the SanDisk ecosystem.

“We get this every time. ‘Does this mean that Flashsoft and io.turbine will only work with SanDisk flash devices?’ The answer is ‘no’, that’s never been our policy,” he said.

“We always support all SSDs from all vendors for the simple reason that quite often we’ll be working with customers which have already qualified a certain vendor’s SSD and they want to continue to use it.”

And that sentiment goes both ways. “On occasion, other vendors have brought SanDisk into their customers because they didn’t provide the software that the customer wanted,” Petersen explained.

“In some cases we work with OEM partners who want to guarantee that standardisation of caching software does not tie them into standardised solid state hardware. So for all of those reasons, we remain hardware agnostic.”

Performance optimisation has been a priority for SanDisk in integrating the product lines from its acquisitions, in terms of the speeds that products are capable of and the formatting of 4-byte sectors rather than the standard 512-byte.

As a result, the software is capable of supporting caches of up to 60TB. “We do have some customer use cases where we’ve had to make sure we can do that because the customer is working in high-performance computing with very large data sets,” Petersen said.

List prices will depend on operating system and configuration but will start at around $4,000. SanDisk has confirmed that Windows products are ready for Windows 10.

“Windows Server 2012 r2 has also become increasingly efficient for Hyper-V, so anyone thinking of using Windows 10 as a client for Hyper-V can be sure the plans are coming together very well,” added Petersen.

Windows and Linux versions of the software are available immediately. The VMWare version will be out “within the next few weeks” following some last minute tweaks.

5 Lessons On Apple Watch Design From Evernote


Since it’s one of the early entrants into the Apple Watch arena, we asked Evernote’s VP of mobile products, Jamie Hull, to tell us what the Evernote team had learned from developing the app. Here’s what she told us.


Even more so than on other devices, the use of clear iconography and strong colors in a user interface is important in an Apple Watch. There’s just not enough room on a cramped screen for labels, says Hull. The Evernote app, for example, has three different top-level interactions competing for attention on a very small screen. By using strong, colorful iconography, like a green plus button to add a new note, Evernote for Apple Watch can communicate what buttons do in an intuitive way without wasting pixels on a label.


The Apple Watch user interface guidelines recommend that developers keep their interactions on the watch to under 30 seconds. “In our opinion, that’s actually too long,” says Hull. “It should be only three to five.” Having released apps for wearable platforms like the Pebble smartwatch and Android Wear, the Evernote design team has seen that after 30 seconds, users’ arms get tired. The lesson? Design to get people in and out of your app as quickly as possible.


Although Evernote’s previous efforts on the Android Wear platform tried to give users full access to their note library on a smartwatch, Evernote for Apple Watch takes a step back. Instead, it surfaces only five or ten notes automatically, based on how useful it thinks it will be to you. For example, if you had taken a photo to remember your airport parking space, Evernote might automatically surface that to your Apple Watch when you fly home from your trip. Because it’s hard to pull off complex navigation on such a small screen, in such a short time frame, a good smartwatch app has to anticipate a user’s needs as much as possible.


Evernote is trying to develop the best Apple Watch app it can, but the Apple Watch isn’t out yet. So once it’s released, Hull says, Evernote plans to be nimble on its feet to react to customer feedback; not just with bugs, but also with core features it thinks are most valuable. In some ways, release is where an app’s development truly begins, not ends. “It’s always true with new platforms,” says Hull. “Expect rapid iteration.”


The number-one rule of Apple Watch app design, according to Evernote, though, is ultimately not to get carried away. Hull says very few actions will actually be better on an Apple Watch than on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, so it’s important to focus on those that make sense. In Evernote’s case, that’s quickly dictating a note, accessing a useful note, ticking off a grocery market checklist, and so on. Don’t try to recreate the same app for another screen: Remember, a user’s iPhone is just a pocket away.

‘Nanoneedles’ generate new blood vessels in mice, paving the way for new regenerative medicine

March 30, 2015

Scientists have developed “nanoneedles” that have successfully prompted parts of the body to generate new blood vessels, in a trial in mice.

The researchers, from Imperial College London and Houston Methodist Research Institute in the USA, hope their nanoneedle technique could ultimately help damaged organs and nerves repair themselves and help transplanted organs  thrive.

In a trial described in Nature Materials, the team showed they could deliver nucleic acids DNA and siRNA to back muscles in mice. After seven days there was a six-fold increase in the formation of new blood vessels in the mouse back muscles, and blood vessels continued to form over a 14 day period.

The nanoneedles are tiny porous structures that act as a sponge to load significantly more nucleic acids than solid structures. This makes them more effective at delivering their payload. They can penetrate the cell, bypassing its outer membrane, to deliver nucleic acids without harming or killing the cell.

The nanoneedles are made from biodegradable silicon, meaning that they can be left in the body without leaving a toxic residue behind. The silicon degrades in about two days, leaving behind only a negligible amount of a harmless substance called orthosilicic acid.

Generating new blood vessels

The hope is that one day scientists will be able to help promote the generation of new blood vessels in people, using nanoneedles, to provide transplanted organs or future artificial organ implants with the necessary connections to the rest of the body, so that they can function properly with a minimal chance of being rejected.

“This is a quantum leap compared to existing technologies for the delivery of genetic material to cells and tissues,” said Ennio Tasciotti, Co-Chair, Department of Nanomedicine at Houston Methodist Research Institute and co-corresponding author of the paper.

“By gaining direct access to the cytoplasm of the cell we have achieved genetic reprogramming at an incredible high efficiency. This will let us personalize treatments for each patient, giving us endless possibilities in sensing, diagnosis and therapy. And all of this thanks to tiny structures that are up to 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.”

The researchers are now aiming to develop a material like a flexible bandage that can incorporate the nanoneedles. The idea is that this would be applied to different parts of the body, internally or externally, to deliver the nucleic acids necessary to repair and reset the cell programming.

Ciro Chiappini, first author of the study suggested that in the future it may be possible for doctors to apply flexible bandages to severely burnt skin to reprogram the cells to heal that injury with functional tissue instead of forming a scar. “Alternatively, we may see surgeons first applying the nanoneedle bandages inside the affected region to promote the healthy integration of these new organs and implants in the body. We are a long way off, but our initial trials seem very promising.”

Abstract of Biodegradable silicon nanoneedles delivering nucleic acids intracellularly induce localized in vivo neovascularization

The controlled delivery of nucleic acids to selected tissues remains an inefficient process mired by low transfection efficacy, poor scalability because of varying efficiency with cell type and location, and questionable safety as a result of toxicity issues arising from the typical materials and procedures employed. High efficiency and minimal toxicity in vitro has been shown for intracellular delivery of nuclei acids by using nanoneedles, yet extending these characteristics to in vivo delivery has been difficult, as current interfacing strategies rely on complex equipment or active cell internalization through prolonged interfacing. Here, we show that a tunable array of biodegradable nanoneedles fabricated by metal-assisted chemical etching of silicon can access the cytosol to co-deliver DNA and siRNA with an efficiency greater than 90%, and that in vivo the nanoneedles transfect the VEGF-165 gene, inducing sustained neovascularization and a localized sixfold increase in blood perfusion in a target region of the muscle.

High-resolution biosensor can report conditions from deep in the body

Going where no light has gone before
March 30, 2015

A new microscopic shape-shifting probe capable of sensitive, high-resolution remote biological sensing has been developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If eventually put into widespread use, the design could have a major impact on research in medicine, chemistry, biology, and engineering and ultimately used in clinical diagnostics, according to the researchers.

To date, most efforts to image highly localized biochemical conditions such as abnormal pH* and ion concentration — critical markers for many disorders — rely on various types of nanosensors that are probed using light at optical frequencies.

But the light doesn’t reach far into the body, so the sensitivity and resolution of the resulting optical signals decrease rapidly with increasing depth into the body. That has limited most applications to more optically accessible regions.

Deep-tissue detection

The new probe devices, described online in the journal Nature, are not subject to those limitations. They make it possible to detect and measure localized conditions on the molecular scale deep within tissues, and to observe how they change in real time.

“Instead of optically based sensing, the shape-changing probes are designed to operate in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum, specifically to be detectable with standard nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment,” says NIST’s Gary Zabow, who led the research with NIH colleagues Stephen Dodd and Alan Koretsky. “In these RF ranges, signals are … not appreciably weakened by intervening biological materials.”

The novel devices, called geometrically encoded magnetic sensors (GEMs), are microengineered metal-gel sandwiches about 5 to 10 times smaller than a single red blood cell, one of the smallest human cells. Each consists of two separate magnetic disks that range from 0.5 to 2 micrometers (millionths of a meter) in diameter and are just tens of nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick (see animation below).

Between the disks is a spacer layer of hydrogel,** a polymer network that can absorb water and expand significantly; the amount of expansion depends on the chemical properties of the gel and the environment around it. Conversely, it can also shrink in response to changing local conditions.

Swelling or shrinking of the gel changes the distance (and the magnetic field strength) between the two disks, and that, in turn, changes the frequency at which the protons in water molecules around and inside the gel resonate in response to radio-frequency radiation. Scanning the sample with a range of frequencies quickly identifies the current shape of the nanoprobes, effectively measuring the remote conditions through the changes in resonance frequencies caused by the shape-changing agents.

In the experiments reported in Nature, the scientists tested the sensors in solutions of varying pH, in solutions with ion concentration gradients, and in a liquid growth medium containing living canine kidney cells as their metabolism went from normal to nonfunctional in the absence of oxygen.

Tracking cancer pH clues

That phenomenon caused the growth medium to acidify, and the change over time was sensed by the GEMs and recorded through real-time shifting in resonant frequencies. The frequency shifts resulting from changes in pH were easily resolvable and orders of magnitude larger than any equivalent frequency shifting observed through traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopy approaches.

Tracking highly localized pH values in living organisms can be difficult. (A blood test cannot necessarily do it because the sample mixes blood from numerous locations.) Yet local pH changes can provide invaluable early signals of many pathologies. For example, the pH around a cancer cell is slightly lower than normal, and internal inflammation generally leads to local change in pH level. Detecting such changes might reveal, for example, the presence of an unseen tumor or show whether an infection has developed around a surgical implant.

Biomedical uses would require, among other things, further miniaturization. The 0.5 to 2 µm diameter GEMs in the experiments are already small enough for many in vitro and other possible non-biological applications, as well as possibly for some in vivo cellular related applications. But preliminary estimates by the experimenters indicate that the sensors can be reduced substantially from their current size, and might conceivably be made smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter. That would open up many additional biomedical applications.

Tuning for different pathologies

One of the most significant features of GEMs is that they can be “tuned” in fabrication to respond to different biochemical states and to resonate in different parts of the RF spectrum by altering the gel composition and the magnet shapes and materials, respectively.

So placing two different populations of GEMs at the same site makes it possible to track changes in two different variables at the same time — a capability the researchers demonstrated by placing GEMs with two different dimensions in the same location and detecting the signals from both simultaneously.

“The idea is that you could design different sensors to measure different things, effectively measuring a panel of potential biomarkers simultaneously, rather than just one, to better differentiate between different pathologies,” Zabow says. “We think that these sensors can potentially be adapted to measure a variety of different biomarkers, possibly including things such as glucose, local temperatures, various ion concentrations, possibly the presence or absence of various enzymes.”
NIST PML | New Biosensor

* pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance, on a scale ranging from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline). 7 is neutral. Human blood is normally around 7.4.

** Hydrogels are cross-linked networks of polymers that can absorb various amounts of water depending on their chemical composition and structure. The hydrogels used in the NIST-NIH project were engineered to swell in neutral environments and to shrink in low-pH environments.

Abstract of Shape-changing magnetic assemblies as high-sensitivity NMR-readable nanoprobes

Fluorescent and plasmonic labels and sensors have revolutionized molecular biology, helping visualize cellular and biomolecular processes. Increasingly, such probes are now being designed to respond to wavelengths in the near-infrared region, where reduced tissue autofluorescence and photon attenuation enable subsurface in vivo sensing. But even in the near-infrared region, optical resolution and sensitivity decrease rapidly with increasing depth. Here we present a sensor design that obviates the need for optical addressability by operating in the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) radio-frequency spectrum, where signal attenuation and distortion by tissue and biological media are negligible, where background interferences vanish, and where sensors can be spatially located using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. The radio-frequency-addressable sensor assemblies presented here comprise pairs of magnetic disks spaced by swellable hydrogel material; they reversibly reconfigure in rapid response to chosen stimuli, to give geometry-dependent, dynamic NMR spectral signatures. The sensors can be made from biocompatible materials, are themselves detectable down to low concentrations, and offer potential responsive NMR spectral shifts that are close to a million times greater than those of traditional magnetic resonance spectroscopies. Inherent adaptability should allow such shape-changing systems to measure numerous different environmental and physiological indicators, thus providing broadly generalizable, MRI-compatible, radio-frequency analogues to optically based probes for use in basic chemical, biological, medical and engineering research.

How bacteria can use magnetic particles to create a ‘natural battery’

Could help clean up environmental pollution
March 30, 2015

Iron-metabolizing bacteria can load electrons from microscopic particles ofmagnetite (magnetic iron oxides) and later, discharge electrons to the microparticles, which could lead to a new way to clean up environmental pollution and other bioengineering applications, an international team of researchers have found.

For example, using light energy, magnetite can reduce (gain electrons from) the toxic form of chromium, chromium VI, converting it to the less toxic chromium III, which can then be incorporated into a harmless magnetite crystal.

“In our study we only looked at iron-metabolizing bacteria, but we speculate that it might be possible for other non-iron metabolizing organisms to use magnetite as a battery as well, or they can be made to use it, through genetic engineering,” said study leader James Byrne from the University of Tübingen

As the researchers note in the journal Science on March 27, they showed that in simulated daylight, phototrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas palustris) removed electrons from the magnetite, thereby discharging it. At night, the iron-reducing bacteria (G. sulfurreducens) took over and were able to dump electrons back onto the magnetite and recharge it for the following cycle.

This oxidation/reduction (redox) mechanism was repeated over several cycles, meaning that the “battery” functioned over repeated day-night cycles. This could also work with other types of bacteria that do not normally require iron to grow, e.g., fermenters, the researchers suggest.

Scientists at the University of Manchester and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory were also involved in the research.


German researchers have built tiny robotic ants that look and behave just like real ants. The software that runs the BionicANTs forces them to cooperate with each other to finish any task.

A swarm of robot ants that can work together to solve a common problem – such as carrying around a large object -has been unveiled in a gobsmacking video. For the BionicANTs, German robotics company Festo has not only taken the delicate anatomy of the natural ant as a role model. But for the first time, they have simulated the cooperative behaviour of the creatures on to these tiny robotic creatures using complex control algorithms.

Festo is already very well known in the robotic world as they specialise in creating incredible machines that mimic nature – including birds, sting rays and kangaroos.

Like their natural role models, the BionicANTs work together under clear rules. They communicate with each other and coordinate their actions and movements among each other.

The artificial ants demonstrate how autonomous individual components can solve a complex task together working as an overall networked system.

Components are made using laser-sintered components embellished with conductor structures this means the bodies of the BionicANTs have polyamide powder, melted layer by layer with a laser.

Each an uses a 3D stereo camera in their head to identify the gripping object and for self-localisation. An opto-electrical sensor in the abdomen uses the floor structure to tell how the ant is moving in relation to the ground.

For legs, Festo uses piezo technology; the bending piezo-ceramic actuators can be controlled quickly and precisely allowing them to work with little energy while saving on space.

The ants can work for 40 minutes before they have to link up to a charging station – which they do by pressing their little feelers against a metal panel. The ants have been built using a pioneering 3D MID process, which means their electrical circuits are printed on the outside. Festo also launched robotic butterflies that fly like the real thing called eMotionButterflies.

As Earth Hour celebrated, environment minister says more action needed

CTV Kitchener: Marking Earth Hour locally

University of Waterloo students turned off the lights and opened up the board games to mark Earth Hour.
 Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, March 29, 2015 10:56AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, March 29, 2015 6:17PM EDT

VANCOUVER — Canadians joined millions around the world Saturday night in turning off their lights to mark Earth Hour, celebrating the ninth year of the annual event.

But as participation appeared to be on the decline in recent years, supporters emphasized the goal was to raise awareness of climate change — 24 hours a day.

“Every passing year it becomes more infectious,” said Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray in a phone interview. “It’s actually really doing what it intended to do, which is to get into the popular culture.

“It’s not just government and environmental groups who are talking about climate awareness, but it’s also companies and industries, your local pub, your local brewery.”

Nova Scotia Power reported a 0.5 per cent drop in usage Saturday night as residents dimmed their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Toronto Hydro reported a 3.5 per cent reduction, which it said was equivalent to taking 42,000 homes off the grid.

Earth Hour was launched in Australia in 2007 as a way to draw attention to environmental issues including climate change. It has grown to a worldwide event involving 162 countries.

The main organizer, the World Wildlife Fund, said more than a third of Canadians participated in Earth Hour last year.

But enthusiasm appears to have waned over the years. For example, energy savings in B.C. this year dropping to a tenth of 2013 levels.

On Saturday, residents reduced the provincial electricity load by 0.2 per cent — the equivalent of turning off about 680,000 LED light bulbs — but it’s a dip from last year’s one-per-cent reduction and the two-per-cent energy savings achieved a year earlier.

Murray told The Canadian Press the federal Conservatives have been “pretty disengaged” on climate change.

He said Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are meeting timeframes for emission reductions set by the Kyoto protocol, from which the federal government has withdrawn.

“We don’t want to pick a fight with the federal government, just on things like climate change they haven’t been part of the conversation internationally,” Murray said in a phone interview.

“It’s really shifted to the provinces and the cities and the municipalities in Canada who are now taking the lead role.”

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF Canada, said individuals, businesses, cities and countries are making changes to fight the most devastating impacts of climate change.

“The true impact of Earth Hour is how change is happening outside the hour, in everyday actions and decisions,” he said in a statement.

“WWF is working here in Canada and around the world to ensure that change comes fast enough.”

Apple Watch leads health, technology boom that has FDA attention

Last updated 09:47, March 31 2015


HEALTHY LIVING: Apple CEO Tim Cook says devices and services such as Apple Watch may be able to help pinpoint some diseases and cancers in the next several decades.

Ads by Google
Full-Text Online
Online library of books, journals, articles. Research online.
With Apple and fellow Silicon Valley companies edging further into health care, the United States agency in charge of oversight says it will give the technology industry leeway to develop new products without aggressive regulation.

Bakul Patel, who oversees the new wave of consumer-focused health products at the Food and Drug Administration, said most wearable gadgets such as the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch and health-focused applications for smartphones have a way to go before warranting close scrutiny from the agency.

“We are taking a very light touch, an almost hands-off approach,” Patel, the FDA’s associate director for digital health, said.

“If you have technology that’s going to motivate a person to stay healthy, that’s not something we want to be engaged in.”

The FDA is mapping out its role at a time when health care and consumer technology are blending.

Apple, Samsung Electronics, and other companies are building products loaded with sensors that have the potential to eventually gather all sorts of information about blood pressure, body temperature, glucose levels, hydration, oxygen levels and outside air conditions.

Software algorithms are being developed that gather different information about a person’s health to provide a diagnosis of potential illness that backers say may eventually be more accurate than a doctor.

“The FDA sits at one of the most, if not the most, critical junctures in terms of modulating the burgeoning category of digital medicine,” said Malay Gandhi, managing director of Rock Health, a health-focused venture capital firm in San Francisco.

A pressing question is whether the FDA and other agencies have the resources and staff to handle oversight of the fast-moving industry, Gandhi said.

The FDA’s annual budget of about $4.5 billion is a quarter of the $18 billion Apple generated in profit in its most recent quarter.
The Apple Watch is expected to be released in New Zealand this year.


While the FDA oversees devices and applications, other federal agencies also have taken an interest in how these products interact with people’s lives, including whether they do what they’re purported to do or pose a risk to privacy.

Some products raised flags with regulators after they’ve reached the market. In February, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on some smartphone apps for dubiously claiming to diagnose melanoma based on an uploaded picture.

Meanwhile, the US. Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights is responsible for oversight of the security of patient-health data collected by electronic devices, a separate issue that is being closely watched by privacy advocates.

“I worry that there are going to be companies that are skirting the rules,” Gandhi said. “We have to see the enforcement, otherwise it creates a very uneven playing field between companies that are acting ethically and those that aren’t.”

Patel said Apple and Google Inc. and other corporations should play a role in screening applications to be sure health-software developers aren’t over-promising the benefits of their products. Both companies have visited FDA headquarters in Maryland to discuss their health initiatives, he said.

Representatives for Cupertino, California-based Apple and Mountain View, California-based Google declined to comment.

Ad Feedback

Derek Newell, chief executive officer of health-care startup Jiff Inc., who previously ran a medical-devices company said “the FDA isn’t built to handle new categories” such as wearable devices, smartphone applications and other emerging technologies.

The agency plays a vital role, but it can take time to catch up, he said.

Several guidelines explaining when it intends to take a closer look at wearable devices and smartphone applications have been issued by the agency.

The FDA’s concerns are focused on gadgets and software that try to mimic the function of a medical device – not features that simply track steps or heart rate, Patel said. A guiding question is what harm might be done to a person if a product fails.

“What are benefits to public health against the risks to public health? We always try to balance that,” Patel said.

The FDA’s guidelines on regulating mobile applications, released in February, leave fitness-tracking and other wellness- related products largely free from scrutiny, while technology used for diagnosis, treatment and prevention will get a closer look.

A lot depends on how the device is marketed, Patel said. If a company is promoting a product to assist doctors in making medical decisions, it will require more oversight, he said.

In January, the FDA approved a glucose-monitoring iPhone app for the first time.

The FDA will keep a close eye on emerging technologies that aim to diagnose illnesses or offer recommendations for treatment, Patel said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said on CNBC this month that devices and services such as Apple Watch and the company’s HealthKit system may be able to help pinpoint some diseases and cancers in the next several decades.

Patel said that as more health-related products get into to the hands of consumers, the FDA’s oversight responsibilities will become increasingly critical.

“The FDA has a role to play for providing patients and consumers a level of confidence that they can use it,” he said.

– The Washington Post