THEY have had a seismic impact on the way we live our lives, but the iPhone’s next role may be even more revolutionary - detecting and diagnosing depression and cognitive decline.


What’s happening?

Apple is working with global biotechnology firm Biogen and a team from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to transform iPhones into mental health monitors; establishing technological systems to enable the iPhone to help diagnose anxiety and depression and also detect cognitive decline, with a view to allowing early intervention in conditions that affect millions worldwide.


How would this be possible?

Using a variety of sensor data - such as noting typing behaviour, physical activity, sleep patterns and mobility - to determine algorithms able to essentially detect health issues. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Biogen started its research this week.


So our phones would monitor our behaviour?

The areas being explored include analysing phone users’ facial expressions, how they speak, how often - and how quickly - they walk, sleep patterns, and heart and respiration rates. They may also measure typing speed and typing quality, such as how many typos a user makes.


What about privacy?

Some may say it’s merely an extension of where we are now. Apple is known for its focus on health, most notably demonstrated with the Apple Watch which it already describes as the "ultimate device for a healthy life"", able to check a wearer's heart rate, irregular rhythms and oxygen levels, for example.


What do Apple say?

Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said hopes are high for the project: “Working in collaboration with Biogen, we hope this study can help the medical community better understand a person's cognitive performance by simply having them engage with their Apple Watch and iPhone. We’re looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes through improved detection of declining cognitive health.”


It is also exploring other areas?

Apple is also involved in a research project with Duke University in North Carolina in the US that aims to create an algorithm to detect childhood autism. One of the potential methods is said to include use the iPhone’s camera to observe how young children focus.


Our phones are truly becoming extensions of ourselves?

As we all know, they are far removed from simply being ways to call family and friends. From taking pictures to watching films, they are part of our lives that now may allow early intervention in our healthcare.


The mobile phone really is king?

Last year, research found 84 per cent of Brits own a smartphone, spending 2 hours and 34 minutes on average online on their smartphones daily, with more than one in five minute spent online spent on social media.


Some of us are definitely addicted?

Do you recognise any symptoms? Smartphone addiction - known as "nomophobia" or "no mobile phone phobia" - is also known as "disconnection syndrome"; a fear of being offline. Symptoms are said to include anxiety, profuse sweating, disorientation, respiratory alterations, tremors and agitation…which, one supposes, might confuse any iPhones once they were back in the user’s grip.