Vaccine Record on Phone

Vaccination record on old yellow form.
Phones are replacing paper as the receipt for vaccines.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am hoping to get the Covid vaccine soon along with other members of my family. I heard that when we get it we will need to keep a receipt for it on our phones. I have not done this before and am wondering if this is so necessary. Janine, TIburon

Dear Janine: The Covid virus has been a real shot in the arm (pun intended) for smartphones. Initially, contact tracing apps were rolled out for phones with a mix of opt-in, opt-out functionality.  Next, smartphones became a vital part of getting tested. Most of us have to sign up for a Covid test, reserve a spot, and learn the results through a combination of text, email, and web site. So, it’s not a surprise that the most important and anticipated element, the vaccine, is also intertwined with our phones. 

Phones Have Background!

Some background: Putting health records on phones is not entirely new but since the beginning of Covid, many firms  have vied to be first to issue or manage digital health credentials. Among the firms are IBM, a Swiss non-profit called the Commons Project Foundation, and Healthvana. The latter company teamed up with Los Angeles County. A county health official said they wanted to “give patients ownership of their records.” Phones were deemed to be particularly useful, since the calendar function and text can remind the public when it’s time to get the second dose of the two-shot regime.  Still, those getting the vaccine in LA County are also said to receive a paper card.

Paper has turned out to be a problem. During Covid there has been a booming market in creating fake test results. Back in November, a publication reported that international travelers (largely outside the U.S.) forged, and sold, negative test results. So, the idea has been to create a “digital health credential” on smartphones that is more secure and less susceptible to fraud. 


Of course, this could raise issues, and this might be at the heart of your question. Should we be worried about privacy and surveillance? The software developer, like Healthvana,  claim that the health pass does not share specific details-like where and when a user was tested. In due time, we can hope that members of the public will no longer need to show that they have been vaccinated in order to do everyday things. If they remember to do so, they can then delete the record from their phones.

VERILY & Apple FOR YOURS:

In the interim, airlines, schools, and employers may need to verify that people actually got the vaccine. And, it could be useful if you want to dine indoors at a favorite restaurant or get admission to say movie theaters and sports events.

If you have children, you will recall that you need to bring a paper certificate with a history of  vaccination records, before they enroll in day-care or school. Today, some doctor’s offices submit those forms digitally. Now it’s looking like you will be bringing the results from the Covid vaccine and other health information on your digital wallet.  It should not be a surprise then  that latest Apple operating system (i0S), is literally  programmed with a health app you cannot delete!

Are Phones Morphing into Cars?

Lowly Worm in an Apple Car of old. Will the future bring a phone morphing into a car?
Apple Car w/ Lowly Worm (Richard Scarry illustrator)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Are phones becoming cars or vice versa? My friend took me out for a ride in his new car and whipped out a phone when he wanted to unlock the doors and move it  forward a few feet. Then I read in the news this week that Apple, the company that makes my phone, says they plan to make a car. I don’t see a car company, like Ford or GM, hinting that they want to build phones. Please explain this topsy turvy! Bill, Fairfax.

Dear Bill: It’s a great questIion to begin the New Year. In an early DearSmartphone column (now archived) I note that Gen X and Gen Z car buyers seem more intent on how the vehicle will synch with phones and less interested to look under the hood or kick tires.

But, I don’t think it’s the prowess and performance of ApplePlay that makes people, like you, think that an Apple car might be roadworthy. I believe it is an issue of integrity and trust.

The Bread Crumb Trail:

Future vehicles will leave a bread-crumb trail wherever and whenever they travel ….from entering the roadway, logging miles, and an ever-present chatter with sensors and satellites. Think of it like being in an airplane that is never completely outside the range of the control tower.

So, future revenue may come less from selling cars and more in renting out this “car data.” Imagine that you are motoring near a big box store (assuming they still exist) and you are prompted with a flash-sale, if you’ll just alter your route and get there soon. Or, you have entered the coordinates to travel to a new destination, and the dashboard offers hotel and dining recommendations. More insidious is the dashboard recording how often you stopped for booze, even though you are technically underage.

People are worried about data privacy, about their interests and habits being bought and sold. Technically, this is happening today. Black boxes installed in cars collect data on the speed you are driving, whether you stop at signals and stop signs, and how heavy you are on the brakes. Insurance companies promise to reward good drivers and help teens but what else can they do with this information? Meanwhile, GPS routing, over our phones provides a very complete picture of where we have been. Ironically, one of the first legal cases about these privacy rights occurred when law enforcement officials attaching a GPS device to track a suspect’s vehicle.

In Apple We Trust?

So, a pivotal reason that people think Apple may make a better car might have less to do with engineering and more to do with the trust and integrity that people place in the Apple brand name. According to a 2019 presentation by CEO Tim Cook, Apple was differentiating itself from other Silicon Valley providers by valuing privacy and keeping more data local to the device. Today, in 2021, Apple is defending its policy of locked phones and secure passwords in a suit that could wend its way to the Supreme Court .

That said, there are also technological reasons to anticipate that Apple may be up to something ‘moving’.  It’s said that Steve Jobs considered building a car in 2008 and Apple has been making strategic hires in technology since 2014 .  Strategically, Apple is rumored to use a different battery chemistry, not the one favored by car-manufacturer Tesla in the U.S. A LFP, lithium iron phosphate battery is said to be less volatile, less likely to overheat, and its ‘monocell’ design would free up space inside the battery pack. This could reduce the cost of an Apple powered vehicle and give it more range.

Power Rangers:

Neither Apple nor it Silicon Valley rival, Google, have a natural advantage with tires and chassis. However, they do have a head-start with batteries, and batteries will power future vehicles. The people’s car might actually begin with the people’s smartphone. That said, it should be noted that Google/Waymo has been testing self-driving cars since 2009 and has logged more self-driving miles than any other company.

But, summing up, the Apple Car has always been first and foremost in my own household. Ever since my children read the book and crooned at the cartoon pictures by children’s author Richard Scarry (see image cartoon) they have been rooting for Lowly Worm in his Apple Car.

Year-End Dear Smartphone

On a pink background rests an alarm clock, so it forms the number zero. Then 2020 is spelled out. The quote says :"year's end is neither an and nor beginning but a going on."
Year-end Dear Smartphone ( image: EdSys)

The year-end Dear Smartphone column in 2019 was about shopping online and holiday pandemonium. It was a prophetic post: “Maybe a future Christmas will put less emphasis on running between stores and accumulating presents and place more weight on taking holiday images, sharing symbols of the season, or just staying home.”

Covid did for Dear Smartphone what Keywords could never accomplish. During 2020 there was a cultural reckoning with smartphones and digital devices. We all became more aware of how we are connected at the hip by them.

 In 2020 staying safe, sane, and sage required us to manage our devices with more insight. 

March 3rd, began a new era of questions and postings, on topics ranging from the transmission of germs to the transmission of social information.

Equity and Access

At the beginning of the Covid virus, it became apparent that people were turning to the Internet, but not everyone had access.  As schools shut down, students from less affluent households lacked the ability to attend online classes. So, voices were raised about digital equity and access. Older people had similar concerns. Many lacked high speed access as well as the knowledge of how to find friends and classes online or trust the grocery order. 

Further into March and April, those blessed with Internet access complained that being online all day made them grouchy and tired. Readers began to query about helping kids moderate digital time and develop other interests. There were equal queries about supporting older people, and getting them up to speed with apps, online payments and Apple watches. 

Not surprisingly, the dual topics of digital etiquette and digital mental health rose to the top this year as readers spent more and more time on their devices.  Someone asked “Is my smartphone making me sick?

Zoom, Ablaze, More….

Dear Smartphone offered commentary on using Zoom, Snapchat, Robinhood, TikTok, and the now defunct Quibi.  Questions about Zoom, not surprisingly, led the pack. One column, which led to a graphic Instagram post, asked whether it is safe to ‘Zoom Zoom’ in the car (the answer is No No unless parked).

In August and September, there was a telecomm pivot as California forest fires blazed close to home. Dear Smartphone advised readers of the emergency links published in local papers. There was a reminder that there are no telecom safety nets. Landline phones can fail at the central office, cordless phones depend on electricity or batteries, and mobile phones need the relay towers to be intact.

The Cancelled…

It is noteworthy to consider what did not take place in 2020, the blazes that did not happen. 2020 did not turn out to be the year of privacy. Before the year began, safety protocols were supposed to be set in place for data and sharing, but they flew out the window with the pandemic. In order to get tested for the virus or help monitor the spread, smartphone users opted to provide location and social data. Even more worrisome, some phones had operating systems that defaulted to Bluetooth and GPS for the sake of Covid tracing.

2020 also cancelled the idea that you could protect kids from phones until a certain age. It became clear that digital devices were integrated into their daily lives, like seeds inside a fruit. Although we are not there yet, children need to be schooled in digital literacy- think of it like a driver’s license, you guide young people with instruction and supervision until they know the rules of the road, engage safely, and are responsible out and about. 

Looking OldeR, Looking Forward…

At the other end of the age spectrum, 2020 also made it clear that older people need to have digital tools to interact and stay connected. Voice activated devices could be their key for transformational changes in keeping social, ordering goods, online classes, and banking. Today, Siri and Alexa provide some assistance, but being nimbler with phones could be an unrealized asset to help older generations stay cognitively active and alert. 


2021 opens the next chapter for Dear Smartphone and its readers. The pandemic will wind down and we will settle into healthier and gainful relationships with each other as well as with our devices. If 2020 was the year in which everything, including Covid went viral, 2021 will be the year in which we learn to harbor digital immunities.