If I made an iPhone app, I'd probably be pretty bummed if Steve Jobs took a moment out of his day to personally reject it. It's unlikely that I'd post an announcement about it on my website. But then, I'm not a startup with a product that measures cellphone radiation levels, harboring a publicity-ready response from Jobs:
Tawkon, the creator of said app, first requested approval from Apple about a year ago, receiving essentially the same (albeit wordier) response, which cited the confusion that the application might cause iPhone owners from a usability standpoint. The company now seems to have given up on the App Store route. In the above mentioned blog announcement, it says that the app, already available on Android and Blackberry, will now be available to iPhone users via Cydia. Cydia apps require a jailbroken iPhone.
Given that the scientific consensus seems to find no long-term health effects of cellphone radiation the purpose of the app is potentially controversial. According to Tawkon, its radiation-measuring technology works by leveraging existing components in cellphones, and detecting a range of environmental factors. From there, its ‘complex algorithms’ ensure that the application works accurately and helps users reduce radiation exposure.
The company’s website states that the iPhone rarely gets close to its maximum SAR level, which is a metric regulated by the FCC. But when it does get close to the max, the app will suggest ways to bring it down: "'go back' to previous location, 'activate speakerphone', 'hold your phone vertically' or activate headset while traveling fast, among other actions."
Based on this pitch, quantitative questions arise. If a device's maximum SAR level is already deemed safe for users by the FCC, then the above actions might only prevent imaginary cancer. Even if the Interphone Study's more alarming findings (which suggest potential harm from long-term, moderate cellphone exposure) are eventually proven, would Tawkon's radiation-reducing actions make a significant difference in one's overall deleterious exposure to electromagnetic radiation? This isn't necessarily the company’s claim, but it'd be a logical motivation for users.
To date, even the most comprehensive and well-funded studies have struggled to map the behavioral and demographic complexities of cellphone usage to health problems. Worse, data on how a lifetime of regular cellphone use affect users’ health doesn't yet exist. But people will still worry about cellphone radiation, so shouldn’t iPhone users they be able to access the same information that Android and Blackberry owners can?
Jobs' decision to reject an application (on whatever grounds) can be viewed as either defensible or imperious. Tawkon's display of this e-mail exchange in tandem with its Cydia announcement can be viewed as either liberated or sensationalist. Until the dangers of cellphone radiation are more satisfactorily disputed, it’ll be hard to see as a technological quarrel, hidden, as it is, by the shadows of the outsized personalities at hand.