BlackBerry 10 Review: What It Means For Healthcare and mHealth

1-30-2013 11-50-22 PM

Today marks a significant day in the BlackBerry corporate story. The much-anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system and Z10 smartphone were unveiled. This product release has been called the debut that could bring BlackBerry back into the fold. However, it could as easily be the debut that solidifies BlackBerry’s exit form the smartphone market altogether.

BlackBerry has done everything it can to convince customers that it is working to reinvent itself. Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin were publically ousted from their positions just over a year ago. Since then, 30 percent of the staff were fired and BlackBerry 10 OS was written from the ground up, not borrowing a single line of code from its legacy predecessors.

The promises coming from BlackBerry corporate headquarters for the past year have been extravagant and Wall Street analysts went along for the ride, with stock climbing more than 200 percent since its 52-week low last September. Today was about delivering on those promises for BlackBerry.

In the spirit of change, the day was kicked off with the announcement that the company had abandoned its original Research In Motion name, and would now be known simply as BlackBerry. After this announcement, CEO Thorsten Heins moved on to demo the hardware and software that the company hopes will reinvigorate its customer base and rescue its plummeting market share.

Here is HIStalk Connect’s breakdown on BlackBerry 10 and how will impact mobile rounding and digital health in the months ahead:

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1. The App Store

BlackBerry attempted to tackle the app store issue head on by coding an import routine for developers to import existing Android apps into the BlackBerry marketplace. Developers did not respond as enthusiastically as BlackBerry had hoped and the store only had around 70,000 apps for the big launch today. That puts it behind Apple (800,000), Android (estimated at 700,000), and Microsoft (150,000). What’s most important to us, however, is not how many apps are available, but which ones are available.

For clinicians,  BlackBerry’s official app store “App World” has little to be excited about. The health and wellness section is organized well, with a dedicated section for medical guides and another for healthcare services. The content, however, is severely lacking. “Thailand Medical Tourism” is listed on the first page of the Medical Guides section, while Epocrates, Medscape, and UpToDate are all missing from App World. BlackBerry offers “Clinician’s Pocket Drug Reference” by McGraw-Hill which appears to be the best option for a mobile drug reference library.

Patients do a little better on the mobile app store. Major players in the mHealth world include ZocDoc, MyFitnessPal, and Sleep Cycle. Missing from a respectable mHealth library: Health Tap, RunKeeper, Lose It!, MyChart, Microsoft HealthVault, and iBlueButton (or any Blue Button network apps), to name a few.

Conclusion: BlackBerry’s App World leaves a lot to be desired, from both a patient perspective and from a clinician perspective. With increased demand, third-party app developers might take advantage of the import routine BlackBerry developed for Android apps, but until the demand is there, expect weak medical and health offerings from BlackBerry’s App World.

2. BlackBerry 10 OS

BlackBerry 10 is the most important advancement BlackBerry has made with this release. While there are some things that it struggles with, like voice control, there are others that raise the bar.

BlackBerry Balance – BlackBerry just became the name to beat when it comes to BYOD and security compliance. With a swipe of the finger, users are able to switch between two accounts. The first is a private account with all of the typical features of a consumer-focused smartphone. The second is an enterprise account, where BlackBerry shows that it hasn’t forgotten that enterprise customers are who kept it in business during its down years.

The enterprise account on BlackBerry 10 is setup by an organization’s IT manager. It is separated entirely from the private account, meaning that no data will transfer between the two users. The IT manager has the ability to push updates, apps, and even wipe the device remotely if needed.

There is a not-so-obvious end user benefit to this feature. As our own Dr. Jayne recently blogged, there is a genuine need to reduce after-hours e-mailing in our increasingly connected lives. BlackBerry Balance brings personal time back by disconnecting users from work e-mail when they walk out the door and switch back to their personal accounts.

Active Frames – The Active Frames desktop has been a source of debate among initial reviewers. The concept is that rather than representing an app with an icon, why not represent it with a miniaturized, actively updated, window which would let you peek into the app from a desktop level. Advocates are calling it a time saver, which makes it a win for clinicians.  Generally, there is consensus that this is a workflow improvement, however, there have been early questions as to the effect Active Frames is having on battery life.

BlackBerry Hub – Hub is a centralized inbox, similar in concept to Android’s notification center. Hub houses all e-mails, texts, calls, tweets, Facebook notifications, and calendar events in a centralized work list. This will be a time saver for clinicians. Any notification producing app used at work, plus missed calls and meeting reminders, will be on one screen. Again, signs that BlackBerry was thinking about work when they designed BlackBerry 10. Bringing disparate data together to build efficient workflows for busy users.

Conclusion: If BlackBerry is indeed salvageable company, it will be BlackBerry 10 OS that saves it. It has well-conceived workflows, elegant navigation, and some features that are first to market. Overall, the operating system is solid.

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3. Hardware 

The BlackBerry Z10 is a dual-core, LTE smartphone with 2GB of RAM. In layman’s terms, it’s most likely faster than any phone. From a size perspective, it is slightly larger than an iPhone 5 and slightly smaller than a Samsung Galaxy 3, though all three fall within millimeters of each other. The BlackBerry Z10 has the highest resolution of the three, and has the highest camera resolution too.  Battery tests are all preliminary, but early results are showing BlackBerry 10 coming out on top when measuring solely talk time, but there are some battery issues with streaming video.

BlackBerry finally ditches the physical keyboard, opting for the industry standard virtual keyboard. BlackBerry bet big for years that its core customer base would not abandon a physical keyboard, but they did, and BlackBerry appears to be ready to join them. The Z10 looks like an iPhone. It comes in black and white and has rounded edges (which, knowing Apple, may become a patent issue).

Conclusion: BlackBerry holds its own in the hardware department. The device brings nothing new to the table, but it keeps up with the most recent offerings from Samsung and Apple and that may be enough.

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4. Fitness Trackers and Medical Device Integration

At this point, Withings, Fitbit, Jawbone, and BodyMedia only support Android and iOS ecosystems. So, options are limited with regard to BlackBerry integration with activity trackers. The best bet appears to be BodyMedia, whose activity management PC software will integrate with MyFitnessPal, which is in turn available as an app on BlackBerry. This is not a directly integrated workflow, but it seems as though it will get the job done for die hard BlackBerry fans.

Medical device integration is non-existent for BlackBerry at this point. Glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, and even Wi-Fi scales are all working predominantly within the iOS ecosystem. A few have ventured out as far as the Android marketplace. But BlackBerry still has some significant work to do to get persuade digital health developers that the BlackBerry marketplace is worth the investment.


Will this phone disrupt healthcare? It could, but it won’t happen overnight. The BlackBerry Balance feature that lets you switch your phone from a work phone to a home phone is appealing. A lot of people would benefit from, and warm to the idea of, shutting off work e-mail after they have left the hospital or clinic for the day. It also plays into the hand of health systems struggling with BYOD plans, many of which were probably BlackBerry enterprise customers at one point.

From a patient perspective, there is just not much here. No activity trackers, integrated medical devices, or personal health record apps. The basic calorie counter and run tracker are available, but that is about it.

Yesterday, BlackBerry was a company that most people had written off. Today, it gets a second chance. BlackBerry stayed afloat for the past year by making big promises. Did they deliver on these promises? Not entirely. Look back to the markets for evidence if this. RIM stock dropped nearly 12 percent today despite generally positive reviews of both the BlackBerry 10 OS and the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone.

The hardware is solid and the operating system looks great, with some significant enterprise features that are unavailable elsewhere. If the app store problem can be rectified, and BlackBerry can provide third-party developers a significant reason to take it seriously as a platform, then BlackBerry may be back.

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