Apple has been under scrutiny for the iPhone 4′s flawed antenna which loses signal if users hold the device in a certain way. Israeli company Tawkon developed an app that lets iPhone users see and lower their exposure to cellphone radiation, and the app showed that the iPhone releases an increased amount of radiation when struggling to find a clear signal.
Last year Tawkon had discussed the possibility of getting the app into the App Store with senior Apple executives. However, after emailing Steve Jobs in August 2010 and requesting for the app to be approved, Jobs replied back with two words: “No interest.” It’s not clear if Jobs was upset with Tawkon demonstrating that the faulty antenna is connected to increased radiation, or if Jobs personally rebuffs the notion that cellphone non-ionizing radiation affects human health.
Tawkon announced on March 23 2011 that they will provide the app for free on Cydia. The app has also been approved by RIM and is available on Blackberry AppWorld for $9.
In an ironic twist, Stephen Colbert recently revealed on his show that you can text “redcross” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in Japan, but the iPhone will autocorrect “redcross” to “reactor.”
What we wanted to know is, how can an app measure the amount of radiation in a cellphone? There are several factors that affect the levels of radiation we are exposed to when using mobile devices, Tawkon co-founder Ori Goshen explained in an email. The factors include the location of the cell phone, like whether the phone is shielded from a phone network in an elevator or behind a concrete wall. Additional factors include the shape and size of the phone, weather conditions and distance of the phone to your head.
The amount of mobile phone non-ionizing radiation we are exposed to is measured in units called SAR (Specific Absorption Rate). According to Goshen, SAR levels of mobile phones change constantly based on the factors mentioned.
All the information related to the radiation emitted by the mobile phone is stored in the phone itself because this information is required by the phone for its normal operation. For example, it needs to know how much power to transmit in order to keep the voice or data connection while the user is talking or browsing,
The Tawkon app collects and analyzes your phone’s changing SAR levels, network coverage, location, environmental conditions and phone usage and uses all these factors to determine actual radiation exposure levels.
The SAR values are being calibrated in an Radio Frequency (RF) lab on a SAR measurement machine to ensure radiation levels are accurately monitored, Goshen said.
The app demonstrates the level of radiation using a bar, and the cellphone user can set the app to send email alerts telling the user to switch to a headset or earphones if the radiation is higher than normal. While this could protect you from higher levels of radiation from your own phone, it does nothing for the radiation emitted by cell phone towers in the proximity, or the cellphone wedged against your ear by someone too close for comfort on the subway.
There has been debate whether non-ionizing radiation in cellphones causes any harm at all. In fact, is radiation the right word, with all its weight and connotations? Is Tawkon attaching too much importance to RF transmission?
According to the World Health Organization, no recent national or international reviews have concluded that exposure to RF fields from mobile phones cause any health effects. However, many independent labs and organizations continue to find information contrary of WHO reports.
A 2004 Swedish study found that an increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a type of benign brain tumour, was associated with mobile phone use. It’s worth noting this risk occurred only if the cellphone user had operated mobile phones for more than 10 years. Most recently, out of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Brookhaven National Lab (BNL) have found the obvious fact that cell phone radiation can affect the normal functioning of the human brain.
However, the general conscencus among the medical and scientific community is that while there is no direct link between mobile use and health effects, “more research is needed” to fully repudiate the claim.
We have yet to see how and if Apple will respond to the jailbreak.