Unlocking iPhone’s Potential for Mobile Health
Apple is well known for its obsessive desire to create a clean and simple user experience. It’s one of many reasons why the company has been so successful. Apple’s controls make an incredibly complex device simple and easy to use. Apple removes the worry for the user. For example, the iPhone carefully restricts third party app functionality to protect users from a poor experience. That makes sense. In order to have a great user experience, we have to make these tradeoffs.
For developers, this is frustrating. One of the most frustrating Apple controls for us is the limited support for background processes or multitasking. While an iPhone user is actively using one app (foreground app), other apps are performing tasks in the background. To avoid slower processing speed or unnecessary battery drain, Apple restricts the tasks an app can perform in the background. For example, Apple prohibits apps to capture data from embedded motion sensors while in the background. That essentially prevents passive, all-day physical activity tracking on the iPhone and limits other use cases like passive posture detection, indoor localization, etc.
I think there is hope that developers will eventually have background access to motion sensors on the iPhone. Despite Apple’s battery life and processing speed concerns, these are grey area decisions. If there is enough value for the user (e.g. music apps playing in background, navigation apps accessing GPS, etc.), Apple has relinquished some control. Let’s hope Apple sees the value in mobile health applications and opens up the motion sensors for background processing.