Apple has rejected an app that allows users to determine the radio frequency energy emitted by the iPhone on the grounds that the information would "create confusion with iPhone owners from a usability perspective." The Tawkon
app was developed by a team of Israeli engineers over 18 months, and figures the amount of energy your head absorbs by estimating the power output of the iPhone's radio.
Cell phone radiation is the subject of considerable debate, with manufacturers (predictably) on one side, consumer groups on the other, and scientists somewhere in the middle. The World Health Organization has stated, based on the consensus view of scientists studying the issue, that it is unlikely that cancer could be caused by cell phone use
. However, some studies have shown an increased risk of a benign tumor of the auditory nerve
, and many countries have recommended specific limits on the amount of energy that is safe for your head to absorb. The specific absorption rate (SAR) metric is used to measure of the rate at which energy is absorbed by the body, in watts per kilogram. The US has set a SAR limit of 1.6 W/kg
for cell phone use. The iPhone 3GS maxes out at a SAR of 0.79 W/kg, while the older 3G puts out 1.38 W/kg.
The amount of power the phone's radio puts out at any given moment obviously affects the SAR, and different things will cause the radio to work harder. For example, if you're holding your phone in a way that covers the antenna, the phone will have to boost the radio to compensate. Likewise, if you're deep inside a building as opposed to being out in the open, or if weather conditions limit the radio signal, the cellular base station will instruct the phone to transmit at a higher level. But there's no way to know what power level your phone's radio is using at a particular time, so you might be exposing yourself to more energy than you're expecting.
This is where Tawkon comes in… or came
in, before the ban hammer dropped. According to the company website
, Tawkon uses your phone's GPS and compass as well as the accelerometer and proximity sensor to determine the distance from cellular towers, the speed you're moving at, the weather, terrain, how close the antenna’s is from your body, and whether the antenna is vertical or horizontal. It uses all these factors to calculate a prediction of how much energy your body is absorbing at a particular moment.
In order to monitor your exposure in real time, Tawkon allows you to access your address book from inside the app so you can make a call. It monitors the "radiation levels" with an intuitive green-yellow-red display, and warns you with a vibration and a tone if you get too close to the "red zone." Using the phone's proximity sensor, Tawkon also makes suggestions like recommending a better location, using a headset or changing the iPhone’s orientation relative to your face.
Tawkon had been languishing in the approval process for a couple of weeks, the company told TechCrunch's Roi Carthy
, and ultimately Apple denied approval on the grounds that the information Tawkon provided would create confusion with iPhone owners from a usability perspective. Use of the term "radiation" is a bit scary: emissions at the frequencies that cell phones use are not ionizing, and are far, far below levels used to create dielectric heating in a microwave oven. However, the idea that the way to prevent "confusion" is to keep users from getting information about their exposure seems specious reasoning at best.
Tawkon told Carthy that they hope Apple will eventually approve the app, and that they intend to sell it for between $5 and $10 US. They are working on Blackberry and Android versions, so hopefully mere competitive pressures will encourage Apple to do the right thing here.