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Apple iOS 6 — Enhancements to Improve Native Apps for Pharma

Brian Corn

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The newest full version of the Apple Mobile operating systems (iOS 6.0) was released September 19, 2012. Though this OS has a great deal of new features and enhancements, there are some features that are of particular interest to the pharma marketing world. This document describes these features and how they might be leveraged within either native apps or digital sales aids for the pharma industry.

App Level Enhancements

There are certain enhancements that can be used within apps (both Apple native apps and those third party apps purchased from the App Store). This section describes those enhancements.


What it means to the general public Passbook can be equated to Apple’s version of the Google wallet. It allows users to store their coupons, membership cards, gifts cards, movie tickets, and more all in one location. Location services have enhanced this app by prompting a user with certain stored information in their Passbook based on their current location. A user will now be reminded when they walk into a store that they have a coupon for a product sold there. In addition, items within Passbook can be automatically expired at some specific date/time.

What it means to pharma We have discussed many opportunities for location-based services (also known as geo-fencing) to detect that a consumer is entering a pharmacy and how we might capitalize upon that idea within an iPhone app. Imagine a Passbook-powered app that presents a dynamically generated coupon for a consumer’s prescription when she enters the pharmacy. Though there are some implementation and legal considerations (having connectivity for dynamic coupons and communicating terms and conditions, respectively), this enhancement can extend the conversation to a consumer through immediate and highly relevant messaging. In addition, we can change the ISI within the coupon dynamically such that when the user views the coupon, this critical information is always up-to-date.

Facebook Integration

What it means to the general public After the deep integration of Twitter into iOS 5 in 2011, Apple now integrates Facebook throughout iOS 6 in the same manner. This means you can post events from your Calendar or information from your Contacts directly to Facebook. Events from Facebook will show up within your Calendar. Facebook friends’ profile information is similarly integrated and synchronized with Contacts. You can also post Photos directly to Facebook, as well as locations from Maps. In addition, Facebook (and Twitter) now appear within the Notification Center tab.

What it means to pharma When Twitter integration occurred with iOS 5, the number of Apple users who tweeted tripled, and 47% of photos on Twitter originated from an Apple device of some sort. This increase could forecast a similar increase in Facebook usage from Apple users. For custom apps, this could facilitate the integration of personal experiences with a particular indication into one’s Facebook timeline. However, it is important to understand that unlike Twitter sharing with Facebook immediately; there is no intermediate step as in Twitter to add text regarding the tweet. This implies a risk of "oversharing" (or "frictionless" sharing) due to this tight integration. We also need to ensure we understand the implications of sharing a specific piece of content on Facebook (HIPAA, FDA, etc.).

Event Kit

What it means to the general public The Reminders app allows you to create to-dos that are date, priority, location and time-based. The Event Kit feature enables custom apps to access these reminders and modify these properties, as well as create new reminders on-the-fly. The Event Kit has been available since iOS 4, but location-based reminders were added for iOS 5, though they were only available to iPhone 4 or newer devices.

What it means to pharma As previously alluded to, Event Kit will allow the creation of dynamic reminders that are triggered when entering a particular location. This would be the technology that powers an app to focus the consumer on DAW issues, for example. Such an app could generate a reminder to visually inspect the specific prescription (pill color, size, shape, label, etc.) when picking up at a pharmacy.


What it means to the general public iOS 6 added improvements to its application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow greater control of Camera focus, exposure and region of interest meaning that third party apps have greater control over these features. In addition, face detection and video stabilization can be accessed via APIs in a similar fashion. This ultimately means the device user experiences higher quality photos and video capture when using third party apps.

What it means to pharma Improved photo and video capture via custom apps lends itself to better experiences related to personal timeline integration. For example, imagine an app that allows a patient to upload photos or videos related to his patient journey to better health. The images uploaded will be much clearer to help others visualize both the struggle and improvement made through treatment.

User Interface (UI) State Preservation

What it means to the general public This feature allows a custom app to restore itself to the most logical recent point within the app’s UI or navigation structure. It aids a user in remembering what she was doing most recently in an app and continuing with that task. For example, an app might return control to a data collection screen if this was the last point of engagement with the user, but if data collection had been completed, the app would return to its home screen (or the previous screen to the data collection screen).

What it means to pharma Facilitating task completion helps make our apps more user-friendly and more used. iPhone apps in particular are prone to constant interruption as the user switches between apps and phone usage. For example, imagine a tracker app that helps the user monitor blood glucose levels for diabetes. If the user is on the 2nd screen of the process to store his most recent reading and he takes a phone call, we do not want to the app to start over on the 1st screen of this process, but rather to return to the 2nd screen with the information pre-populated from the recent session.

Data Privacy

What it means to the general public Due to various concerns with user data being shared with app developers and others without the explicit knowledge or approval of the user, Apple implemented some data privacy controls within iOS 6. This means that before Contacts, Calendars, Reminders or Photos are shared via any app (standard or third party), a popup similar to the following will appear to explicitly inform the user of what is about to be shared and to provide the user the opportunity to prevent this activity.

What it means to pharma Previously, when a custom app we developed needed to share core information back to the server, we had to explicitly ensure that the app asked the user for permission to do so. Failure to do this meant the app could lead to various issues including potential security or HIPAA violations through the sharing of personal information without the user’s express consent. iOS 6 prevents this level of access without first acquiring the user’s consent, thus eliminating some of the risk from building native apps.

Website (Safari) Level Enhancements

There are certain enhancements that facilitate Safari or website-level enhancements that are realized through the changes to the native Safari browser.


What it means to the general public When browsing using Safari with your iPhone (or iPad), you may come across a website that alerts you with the message:

This website supports Passbook integration meaning that it will add the boarding pass you have just created to the Passbook instance on your iPhone. Once the boarding pass is installed on your iPhone, you will be able to receive updates, such as gate changes, as appropriate.

What it means to pharma This Passbook integration could open up several opportunities for pharma websites. Imagine that a patient signs up for a customer loyalty program at a branded website using her iPhone. Through Passbook integration, she can install the loyalty "card" on her iPhone to ensure that she receives updated offers or information instantly when available rather than having to return to the website to learn about these offers. That being said, these offers or updates could certainly point her back to the website for other touch opportunities.

Smart App Banners

What it means to the general public Smart App Banners provide an interactive banner at the top of the Safari browser to help promote the associated App Store app. This feature includes either a link to start the app if already installed or a link to the app’s page within the App Store. In addition, this banner contains iTunes ratings for the app if they are not already installed on the device.

What it means to pharma Imagine an indication website with a companion iPhone app. A Smart App Banner can be installed on the website’s home page to advertise the companion app. When viewed from an iPhone or iPad, this mechanism will be less obtrusive and more consistent than a custom banner solution. In addition, this mechanism eliminates third-party advertising that often impedes the user experience on the mobile website.

Upload Photos

What it means to the general public Websites typically use standard HTML upload controls to allow users to upload various files for such purposes as providing a photo for a user profile. In previous versions of iOS, it was not possible to upload files using Safari. However, iOS 6 supports the uploading or either a photo or video from the iPhone through a standard upload control on a web page. In addition, the user can take a photo or video on the spot and upload it immediately.

What it means to pharma This feature allows the user to leverage content on the iPhone itself, which leads to many possibilities. Consider this scenario: As websites look for ways to better engage and initiate relationships with mobile consumers, the ability to perform a mobile-optimized registration becomes more important. Typical mobile registration relies on a subset of information compared to a desktop registration because of the form factor and other perceived and real limitations of the device. If an iPhone user could upload a photo during the registration process (or even during the update of his user profile), then this could improve the completeness of the profile information and the user experience on the device.

General Enhancements

Device UDID (unique identifier) changes

What it means to the general public In 2011, Apple began forcing app developers to stop using UDIDs, which are the hardware-based unique identifiers associated with an iPhone, for tracking user information. The UDID was being used by third party apps to track user information without the user’s express permission, thus creating privacy concerns. Apple is in the process of developing a new unique identifier which is not tied to a specific device.

What it means to pharma The use of UDID as a means of tracking user information in custom apps was essentially not allowed by pharma due to privacy concerns. The new identifier, which does not allow the custom app to tie back to the specific device and thus user, still allows a custom app to track usage and other information. This tracking helps to improve apps through monitoring of anonymous user behavior, something that is compliant with pharma policy.


The release of iOS 6 represents a great opportunity to leverage new capabilities to enhance iPhone and iPad apps. Though the list of new features and enhancements is long, this article has focused on those that we feel are most relevant to the unique needs and challenges of pharma. Features like Passbook, the Event Kit and UI State Preservation allow us to create more engaging apps for deepening the consumer’s relationship with a brand. Similarly, website integration features like Passbook, Smart App Banners, and Upload Photos improves the mobile experience for web properties, thus further contributing to consumer engagement.


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