Current Affairs

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January 28, 2016

mPulse Mobile Boosts Funding to $10m

 

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What if I said your healthcare plans could fit in the palm of your hand? For a topic so significant, especially on the political stage, it would seem impossible to assume that all our daily healthcare needs could be met with something small enough to hold—something, say, the size of your cell phone. 

But that’s exactly the direction some mobile apps are turning, as healthcare costs continue to soar and our need for personalized healthcare grows. mPulse Mobile is a perfect example of how one little startup from California is making the most of this gap in medical demand by securing almost $10 million in series A funding last week.

But this is not a story about altruism and improving the lives of the general public—those are welcome byproducts of what mPulse is doing, but certainly not at the core of their endeavors. mPulse was simply in the right place at the right time. 

Chris Nicholson, mPulse Mobile’s CEO, is the former COO of Humana, a Kentucky-based health insurance company. Humana and Nicholson were working with mobilStorm, a secure messaging company and mobile marketing firm. Nicholson was looking for ways to save administrative costs, but instead decided to spin off of mobilStorm and create mPulse Mobile. 

 

Value of mPulse in Society 

mPulse Mobile is a secure messaging service designed for healthcare organizations, patients, pharmacies, medical providers, and medical device companies. Messages can be sent using a variety of systems including basic SMS and secure web portals or integrated into existing apps. mPulse aims to offer a more transparent healthcare experience with tailored features to meet growing patient need, while also cutting costs for medical providers, pharmacies, and other related healthcare industries. 

Right now, the app is really in its infancy, offering services that aren’t more complex than fancy calendar reminders about doctor appointments and prescription refills. But that’s all going to change, thanks to funding by HLM Venture Partners, a firm that invests exclusively in market-leading technologies for the healthcare industry.  

With the funding, mPulse plans to take its fancy calendar to the next level by expanding on proven tools to enhance analysis, natural language processing, and text messaging in real time. In essence, the app will attempt to fill several voids caused by administrative error, lack of human resources, and limitations on imparting sensitive information effectively. 

mPulse has made some impressive partnerships as well. Digital health pioneer Inland Empire Health Plan, a not-for-profit also from California, is working with mPulse to help its 1.1 million users improve patient engagement as well as the overall medical outcome. 

"Our sole focus on healthcare combined with extensive experience delivering mobile consumer solutions makes us the ideal partner for companies who need provider, plan, pharmaceutical, and population health solutions," said Nicholson. 

What he really means to say: mPulse can save you money. 

 

January 24, 2016

Honolulu PD to Introduce Text 911

 

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Nobody wants to wind up in a life or death situation; but in the event that an emergency occurs, it is certainly good fortune to be carrying a cell phone, right? In general, the use of cell phones in emergency situations has helped dispatchers and first responders act quickly—which in turn has saved countless lives. This fact is due, in part, to the location features in most smart devices that allow emergency services to track a caller. Moreover, explaining a situation over a mobile device is far more efficient than typing up an email or sending smoke signal—most of the time. 

In some rare cases, it’s not possible or safe to communicate orally during an emergency. Who can forget the intense moment from Liam Neeson’s 2008 hit Taken, when his daughter is lying facedown under a bed praying her attackers don’t find her? Meanwhile, her father waits helplessly on the other line while she is carried away, presumably for making too much noise on her cell phone. 

This is just one exaggerated example but, truth be told, the ability to text 911 could come in handy under certain circumstances.

 

How Texting 911 Works

Just last week, the Honolulu Police Department announced its plans to launch a Text 911 system, an emergency service that will allow anyone with text features on a phone to text for help. This system includes police, firefighters, and paramedics and works similarly to the phone system we commonly use.

According to the Honolulu PD, the system is not yet available but expected to launch sometime in the next few months. While this is a great service to offer residents of Oahu, it’s most certainly not the first of its kind. 

Vermont, in fact, was the first state to organize a statewide text-to-911 system in 2014. A successful trial run with Verizon in 2012 dispelled any doubt naysayers had about flooding dispatchers with negligent texts. In 2013, Vermont received approximately 150 text-to-911 messages, ten of which helped victims of domestic abuse successfully communicate their situations without compromising their safety. 

However, Vermont’s success is tightly linked to a centralized public-safety system that makes room for fast action and changes to protocol. This is not the case everywhere. Most of the time, public safety initiatives like the text-to-911 system require participation from city or county level officials—which amounts to a lot more time and money. 

The bottom line: state emergency call centers will have to adopt several new technologies in order to make text-to-911 a viable solution for everyone in the US. Despite support from the FCC, this has not come to fruition just yet and will likely proceed slower than expected for obvious bureaucratic reasons. 

For now, emergency services still emphasize the importance of making a voice call to 911 in the event of an emergency. While texting may be necessary under obscure circumstances, one huge disadvantage of the service is that emergency call centers are not yet able to track an emergency text. 

Smoke signals are also not advised. 

 

January 04, 2016

Nintendo Launches First Mobile Game

 

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Nintendo fans can finally celebrate their beloved gaming system on their handsets. In March of next year, Nintendo will launch its first-ever mobile app, Miitomo, a communication focused game interface with customizable personal avatars.

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced its partnership with DeNA, a fellow Japanese company focused on mobile apps and development. Together, the duo is committed to bringing Nintendo’s familiar game style to the handsets of millions of users around the world, as well as launching a new online gaming community. 

In addition to its social focus, Miitomo will also focus on entertainment and include internal mini games and other gasification features. There are even discussions about linking the game to users’ Facebook friend lists so that players can communicate with people already in their social spaces. 

Currently, the only revenue potential built into the free-to-play game is clothing users will be able to purchase for their avatar. 

Despite obvious links to the gaming community, Nintendo hasn’t been on the forefront of handset gaming. The partnership with DeNA has been something Nintendo avoided speaking about as recently as January 2014. 

According to Nintendo’s rep at the time, “Nintendo’s intention is not to make Nintendo software available on smart devices.”

Despite Nintendo’s early resistance, the company has made a few things about the mobile developments perfectly clear. For one, DeNA and Nintendo will only be working on original games specifically optimized for the smartphone experience—that means you’re not going to see Mario or Luigi on your handset anytime soon. 

What’s more, all the existing Nintendo IP will be eligible for development by the new license. So, even though Nintendo says no Mario Cart for the iPhone 6S, it’s possible all of that might change sometime in the future. 

 

What the Future Holds

In some ways, it feels like Nintendo is testing the waters before it dives straight into the mobile game world. Depending on how things go with Miitomo, the company may gain some much-needed confidence.

However, all of this raises interesting questions about the success of one gaming platform and its potential success crossing over into new territory. Can Nintendo make a successful game for handsets? Or will it regret the discussion to cross over if Miitomo doesn’t play out to plan?

Nintendo fans should be open-minded come March of next year. They may not get exactly what they’re expecting, but it could be something better.

December 11, 2015

Net Neutrality: Confusion Reigns Over Text Messaging's Status

 

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified fixed and mobile Internet access this year as “common carrier services.” This reclassification falls under Title II of the Communications Act. It aims to use net neutrality rules to prevent carriers from blocking text messages. 

What kind of text messages? Bulk text messages, which at this time aren’t exactly regulated. Bulk texting, as with bulk emailing, is a huge business, and many bulk texts are useful. Others fall under the spam variety, such as those saying the receiver has won the lottery and has to pay a certain amount to “unlock” the winnings. And while blocking “spammy” text messages may seem like a good idea, what constitutes spam is currently under review. 

Verizon created a lot of controversy some eight years ago when it blocked messages to users from an abortion rights organization. The carrier reversed its stance following a New York Times article about the issue, however it caused Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups to petition the FCC. The groups urged the agency to disallow wireless carriers from refusing to provide short codes because of content.

The FCC didn’t respond to the request, however the agency recently solicited public comments regarding a petition started by Twilio, a messaging company who argues carriers must adhere to common carrier rules regarding text messages. 

"The wireless carriers' practices of blocking, throttling, and imposing discriminatory content restrictions on messaging services traffic is not only a daily occurrence, but an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network," Twilio said in a petition.

 

Free Reign

The messaging company received support from Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press, all of which stated carriers currently have "free rein to abuse their gatekeeper position,” and that "Discriminatory text message blocking by the carriers not only raises competitive concerns, but also interferes with free speech rights."

Unsurprisingly, AT&T, Verizon, and the CTIA—a trade group representing most wireless carriers—are asking the FCC to reject Twilio’s request. T-Mobile and Sprint did not make official statements, however they are represented by the CTIA. 

"Twilio frames its Petition as an effort to curb what it calls the 'blocking' and 'throttling' of messaging traffic but in fact, Twilio is asking the Commission to invalidate consumer-protection measures that prevent massive quantities of unlawful and unwanted mobile messaging spam from reaching and harming consumers," CTIA wrote.

Verizon’s comments to the FCC were similar: 

"Despite the successful growth of mobile messaging from a niche product to a massively popular means of nearly spam-free communication, Twilio wants to upend the status quo by subjecting wireless providers’ messaging services and the industry-developed common short code system to Title II," Verizon wrote. "That is a solution in search of a problem and would open the floodgates to spam, harming consumers that have come to depend on messaging services."

The FCC's net neutrality order was put in effect last March and prevents carriers from block messages delivered over the Internet. However, the FCC did not make clarifications regarding traditional text messages.

December 10, 2015

Napa Police Using Mobile Tech in the Fight Against Crime

 

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When Apple released its fingerprint recognition feature on the iPhone 5S, consumers were pretty excited. Today, the identification feature once reserved for high-security has become mainstream, finding itself in the daily lives of millions of mobile users. But fingerprint recognition on your iPhone isn’t the only thing mobile tech is good for. For almost two years, the Napa County Sherriff’s Office has been using mobile fingerprint technology to help law enforcement with a variety of specialized tasks. 

The latest device features dual uses: fingerprint recognition for quick identifications and electronic ticketing. So far the Napa County Sherriff’s Office has nine devices, which they share throughout the county. 

 

What It Means for Law Enforcement

If this sounds like an advancement for law enforcement, it is in some ways—however, the technology may be lacking in others. For instance, the fingerprint recognition device scans a person’s finger and crosschecks it against other fingerprints that are already in California’s fingerprint database. These people are predominantly criminals but also include nurses, cops, teachers, and anyone who’s ever had a reason to be fingerprinted in the state of California. While this can be a huge advantage in some cases, in others, the identification technology would prove useless if the suspect had no prior record or had never been marked on the proverbial grid. 

Similarly, even if a suspect is found in the database, it doesn’t give law enforcement much information aside from their identification. For instance, knowing if a suspect has a previous record of violent offenses could be invaluable information for law enforcement working in the field, where quick decision-making can often mean the difference between life and death. 

Law enforcement is using the technology to help identify people in the field, especially individuals attempting to present fake IDs or avoid identification altogether.

“The alternative options for identifying individuals in the field are very lengthy or time-consuming,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike, “so this product allows us to do that in a rapid manner.”

In addition to cutting down time, the device also allows law enforcement to better handle people who forget, misplace, or lose their IDs. 

Cutting through the red tape and wasteful time expenditures is undoubtedly worth the expense law enforcement is willing to pay for these nifty mobile devices. Napa represents a small geographic area and a limited number of crimes. For other counties, the usefulness of mobile fingerprint recognition may not be fully realized in a practical way just yet.  

November 24, 2015

Saving Lives with Mobile Technology

 

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The thought of surgery being performed by a robot might be a bit too close to science fiction for folks to stomach. However, the healthcare industry is quickly approaching the intersection of once far-fetched medical technology and a global need for better healthcare. 

Mobile technology is a huge part of this growing trend in health sectors across the country, and the world. In fact, mobile advancements in healthcare are predicted to play a large role in saving lives, and influencing preventative medicine. Here’s a closer look at some of the specific mobile advancements on the cusp of this fast-approaching technological horizon:

 

Healthcare and Gamification 

Along with making medical technology more available, creating ways to empower and proactively engage patients for long-term success is just as important as medical prognosis. 

Gamification involves adding game elements to the outpatient process and preventative repertoire to help patients stay on track with a diet, take their medicine, and maintain healthy habits.

We’ve already seen great examples of this in mobile apps like Luminosity, for brain stimulation, and HAPIfork, which monitors healthy eating. By incorporating mobile technology into the medical paradigm, doctors can help patients well after they leave the hospital. 

 

Comprehensive Communications 

Mobile is also a unique tool in healthcare because of the communication access it delivers and its ability to spread information democratically. The Internet and digital resources play a large roll in this as well, but mobilizing these resources has added millions of new Internet users to the healthcare network.

In 2014, mobile Internet access surpassed desktop usage—in other words, the mobile community is farther-reaching than ever before, making it possible to share, crowdsource, store, and gather pieces of medical information on a globalized network.

 

Saving Lives 

Aside from these abstract healthcare improvements, mobile technology has the ability to save lives immediately. For example, UNICEF has implemented a mobile communication system in one of the most dangerous and densely populated areas in the world: the Gaza Strip. 

Using mobile technology, school children in these areas are able to attend school more regularly, and safely, by allowing school administrators to communicate with parents directly. School administrators can send out SMS messages warning parents of potential treats, as well as let them know when school will resume. Since 2011, 29 schools have used this program regularly, and more than 11,000 students are benefiting from the results. 

From 3D printing and robotic nurses, to wearable tech and live-streaming surgery, the future may be in fact be closer than we think, and mobile technology has found a relevant niche within this growth to do its part in making the world a healthier and safer place to live. 

November 06, 2015

Roaming Charges Have Been Scrapped in Europe

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The extra costs associated with using a mobile phone in European countries other than the one you live in are to be scrapped. The ban on data roaming charged, agreed by MEPs in June after years of negotiations, has been passed into law, and will take effect from 15 June 2017.

Roaming charges are currently added to phone bills when users browse the web, make calls or send text messages while abroad. Once the ban kicks in, tourists traveling within the EU won’t notice any difference between the cost of mobile connectivity at home and abroad. The move was described by former vice-president of the European Commission Viviane Reding as “a victory for consumers.”

It’s been a long road for anti-roaming campaigners, as EU member states voiced concern about the potential financial impact on their domestic telecoms providers. A proposal for a roaming ban to take effect this year was scrapped after negotiations stalled. 

The overall ban will be preceded by a ‘phasing out’ process to lessen the burden on operators and allow time for the infrastructure to adjust.  

As things stand, operators can charge tourists up to 22 cents (around 14 pence) per minute for outgoing calls, five cents for incoming calls, six cents per text message and 20 cents per megabyte of data. That’s in addition to their regular tariff. As of April 2016, the costs will be reduced to five cents per minute, two cents per text message and five cents per megabyte.

The impending ban has been welcomed by consumers and campaigners, especially advocates of net neutrality, who broadly oppose unregulated tariff-setting for electronic communications. Under the new telecommunications law, operators will be required to treat all web traffic equally. For net neutrality advocates, the ban on roaming charges is another victory in the fight to keep the lines of digital exchange as open and free to the widest number of people possible.

 

November 04, 2015

NYC Taxi Cabs are Taking on Uber at Its Own Game

If you thought traditional taxi services were going to roll over while ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft proliferate across the country, think again. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission is currently taking steps to push back against the industry-disturbing apps, piloting a program that aims to utilize familiar technology in the hopes of winning back passengers. 

In 2007, New York City taxis got a tech upgrade: a backseat TV monitor blaring news reports and advertisements. The convenience of the screen was used to help process payments as well as entertain passengers, but was ill received by a majority of riders and cab drivers alike. 

 

Understanding Taxi TV

At the time, Taxi TV was considered a necessary evil, but with snappy services like Uber and Lyft cutting into market, the TVs are about to get the boot from the back seat.  

According to the taxi commission, the pilot will include 1,000 vehicles from up to four companies. Each company can choose its own payment technologies and install them in up to 250 vehicles. Instead of Taxi TV, these technologies will include mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, which passengers will then use to complete transactions. 

It’s not quite as simplistic as Uber’s payment method, but it’s a process most people are familiar with—and it’s a lot less annoying than Taxi TV

The pilot is scheduled to last for about a year and includes one other notable shift. Currently, cabs use the rotation of the tires and stopping times to calculate fares. The pilot will integrate GPS to record the distance traveled. This particular aspect of the pilot will be monitored closely to ensure the fares come out equal to the previous system. 

The only major concern reported so far is with disability compliance outlined by a city law passed in 2012. The law requires taxis to provide audio fare updates and requires alternative payment methods for the visually impaired. Currently, the commission is working to ensure these requirements are met if the driver uses a mobile device. 

It’s safe to say the commission’s effort is a solid attempt to compete more directly with popular ride-hailing apps. Getting rid of Taxi TV is a great way to improve the passenger’s experience, but will the use of GPS and mobile devices be enough to sway Uber or Lyft riders? The commission may need to think a little further beyond the proverbial checkered box to make an impact on the industry in a meaningful way. 

November 01, 2015

Mobile Helps Propel UK Adspend to Record Highs

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According to the Advertising Association/Warc, UK ad spending hit a record high in 2015. Spending increased by 5.8% to reach £9.42bn in the first half of the year, and mobile is predicted to exceed the billion-pound barrier for the first time. Digital channels remain the force behind this growth, as Internet spending is up 13.3% for H1 to £3.9bn. Mobile makes up 79% of this growth, with ad spending increasing more than 52% to £1.08bn. 

Growth is noticeable throughout the industry, including both television and cinema forms. Only print has seen a decrease in revenue. 

“Advertising’s resilience points to the strength of the broader economy in the first half,” said Tim Lefroy, chief executive at the Advertising Association. “The UK leads the world in eCommerce and the trend to mobile means serving the public better ads in the right place at the right time.”

Ad spending is expected to demolish the £20bn barrier in 2016, with the Advertising Association’s media breakdown is as follows:  

  • Radio: Radio ad spending decreased by 2.2% to £116m in Q2, branded content excluded. Full-year growth is expected at 3.0% in 2015, and 2.3% with branded content included.
  • TV: Spot advertising “recorded solid YOY growth of 2.9% to £1,144m in Q2, compared to a quarter in which the FIFA World Cup was held last year.” TV spot advertising also enjoyed a fantastic Q1 via ad revenues rising to 11.5%. An “increase of 6.7% is forecast for 2015 as a whole.” 
  • Out of Home: YOY growth was strong at the beginning of 2015 with an increase of 9.7% in Q1, though it decreased 3.6% to £249m in Q2. 
  • Regional Newsbrands: These newsbrands saw a decline of 7.2% in ad spend in Q2 2015 compared to 2014. This “represents a 12.1% drop for print (to £246m) and a 24.0% increase for digital revenues (to £55m).” 
  • National Newsbrands: Print ad revenue decreased by a staggering 19.2% Q2 2015 to £239m. Digital ad spending, in comparison, increased 5.9% to £51m.
  • Magazine Brands: Ad spending declined by 6.8% in Q2. Print advertising saw a 11.0% decline to £168m, while digital saw an increase of 5.2% to £70m. 
  • Internet: Internet ad spending included a 12.8% increase in Q2 2015, which was followed by “revised growth of 13.9% in Q1 (+1.1pp).” Mobile made up 79% of total internet growth during H1, resulting in ad spending of £1,079m (up 52.1%). 

Cinema and direct mail ad spending saw increases as well. Separate Advertising Association research indicated the UK as the biggest mobile advertising spenders in Europe, and the third-highest spenders in the world following the United States and China. 

October 04, 2015

Lawyers Finding Business Via Text Messaging?

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Navigating the laws that regulate advertising options for lawyers can be tricky.  Changing times bring up changing opinions on what constitutes forbidden telephone solicitation, and what does not.

Contacting potential clients via text messaging is a practice that has recently been reviewed by the Florida Bar. This method of communication has been deemed acceptable, but there are still restrictions that an attorney must follow. 

As a lawyer, how do you keep up with technology, communicating in a way that most people now do, while following state laws and regulations? Let’s take a closer look at how text messaging can work for an attorney and how lawyers are finding business via text messaging.

 

Acceptable and Unacceptable Means of Communication

Lawyers are not allowed to solicit business in person. They are also not allowed to call someone on the telephone and ask to be hired. But, an attorney can send a text message, according to a recent Florida Bar decision. 

In-person and telephone solicitations are forbidden because, the American Bar Association says, “the situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and over-reaching.” Just this past February, a Florida Bar committee said the in-person and telephone ban on advertising also barred text messages. But, the Bar’s board of governors reversed that ruling in July. They concluded that texts are more like emails than phone calls. 

 

Times are Changing

Bar President, Ramon Abadin, says that text messages are “an adaptation to reality.” He states, “Most people communicate by mobile data devices that happen to be phones, too.”

Abadin notes that a change in perspective regarding text messaging is “part of the national dialogue. It’s what we should be doing as professionals. We should be looking at how best to serve our clients.”

An attorney, Abadin says, should be looking at the ways in which his or her clients want to be communicated with, and the ways that communication could appear as inappropriate. The issue of text messaging arose when law firms inquired to the Bar as to whether or not texts were appropriate. An Orlando law firm that sent a second inquiry succeeded in getting text messages approved as logical means of communications. 

The firm described how it planned to send texts to criminal defendants, those whose email addresses were not available. It offered the argument that “criminal charges can change your life forever,” and suggested that a solid sample message might say, “You might feel scared and alone. The government accusing you has power; it has money; it has police; and it has many lawyers who will be working to convict and punish you. You should have a lawyer, too.” 

This law firm presented data showing that 90% of adults in Florida have at least one mobile device like a smartphone or tablet. It also showed that 90% of them use these devices for text messaging. 

The Board concluded that laws needed to be updated to reflect this change in American culture. Text messaging for lawyers is now a viable way to gain clients needing representation in a variety of circumstances. There are, however, regulations that must be adhered to even when sending text messages, and it’s important to keep these in mind to avoid breaking the law.