Smartphones starting to bring Hospital Care Home

To see how far technology is taking medicine, contrast the AliveCor iPhone ECG (watch video) to traditional electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) machines that cost upwards of $10,000. They both record electrical activity of the heart for analysis, but the iPhone app is portable and cheap and no longer constrained to clinical settings.

Smartphones faster than mainframe computers

Because of Moore’s Law, which describes the exponential doubling of processor speed & memory, today’s smartphone is now 5,000 times faster than a 1970’s era mainframe computer that once cost 11,000 times more, required liquid cooling & large computer rooms, and was thus shared by hundreds or thousands of users simultaneously. Unlike the mainframe, smartphones are portable, personal, and have sensors for microphone, camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, proximity detector, and now ECG/EKG sensors.


IBM System/370 Model 158-3

IBM mainframe computer, circa 1972
(System/370 Model 158-3)
Apple smartphone, Christmas 2011
(iPhone 4S)
COST: ~$3.5 million (in 1972, $19M in 2011 dollars) COST: $200-$400 with 2 year wireless contract
PERFORMANCE: 1 MIPS (million instructions per second) PERFORMANCE: 5,000 MIPS (1 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor rated at 2.5 DMIPS/MHz per core)
MEMORY: 4 MB max MEMORY: 512 MB standard
STORAGE: typical 1.5 GB (200 MB/drive) STORAGE: 16, 32 or 64 GB

Smartphones are Smaller & Cheaper too

For more perspective, compare the physical size of the magnetic disc storage of IBM’s 3330 drives in 1972 (each drive holds 200 MB) and the company’s first disc drive (from its circa-1956 305 RAMAC supercomputer), which weighed over a ton and stored just 5 MB of data.

IBM 3330 disc drive IBM RAMAC hard drive weighed over a ton and stored 5 MB of data.


Next, extrapolate Moore’s Law and notice that:

  • By 2013, a supercompu­ter will have the reasoning and processing capacity of the Human Brain;
  • By 2023, a $1,000 home computer will have that power, and by 2037, a $0.01 embedded computer will; AND…
  • By 2049, a $1,000 computer will have the power of the human RACE, and by 2059, a $0.01 computer will.

So, given these trends and the availability of wireless networks, powerful smartphones, and medical and environmental sensors, the stage is set for health innovation in the next few years like we’ve not seen in the history of mankind.

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