Readers Write 2/23/10

The iPad is dead. Long live the iPad.

By the UI Guy


Is the Apple iPad dead in the water – where healthcare’s concerned – before it’s even available? From all the mudslinging directed at Steve Jobs’s latest portable offering, you would think so. Much criticism has been leveled at Apple for failing to enable multitasking on the iPad. That’s fair comment with regard to the increasingly short attention span of the typical home user, who’s used to having instant and concurrent access to multiple applications at once, and flitting between them without spending more than a few minutes in each.

However, when it comes to the medical community, this supposed limitation could actually be a blessing. If a facility is giving its resident and attending physicians on-the-go-access to real-time patient chart data on the iPad, surely administrators want them to concentrate on this information. It would be less than desirable for a doctor to be checking e-mail, sending a tweet or updating a social media profile while he or she was supposed to be working on delivering the best possible care outcomes. The lack of a multitasking capability actually creates a more focused user experience for physicians, nurses and other clinicians, which in turn can positively impact patient care and service.

Then we come to another bugaboo with the iPad – no stylus. The visionaries in Cupertino have copped more flak for this omission than any other, with the possible exception of the Flash support (or rather, the lack thereof) debacle. For hospitals, this does put Apple at a disadvantage when going head to head against tablets that support digital ink and pen-like input. There is also a usability issue, in that e-ink enabled tablets have a very small learning curve with clinicians due to the replication and enhancement of the familiar pen and writing surface experience.

The way the blogosphere has been lighting up over the stylus issue, you’d think that Steve Jobs got to the day of the unveiling and said, “Hey guys, looks great but you forgot the pen.” No. Apple doesn’t do things by accident, nor (with the exception of that escalating Flash debacle/war with Adobe and caving-in on the two-button mouse) do they leave out required functionality. Most people initially thought the click wheel on the iPod was crazy because there were no buttons, and many (Apple employees included) believed the app store was a mere sideshow. Those theories didn’t work out too well for the skeptics, did they?

It’ll be the same with the stylus. Either app developers will innovate because of its absence, or, if Apple recognizes a need, it will release such a thing. This is a Bluetooth-enabled device, so what’s to stop Griffin and other third party accessory developers from coming up with a Bluetooth stylus? In fact, TenOne is already halfway there with its Pogo. The Apple accessory market can also come up with screen covers to withstand medical sanitation, splashes and the other day-to-day hazards of the hospital environment. For instance, impact-resistant cases are already available. Check two more complaints off the list.

Going back to the software issue, developers of iPad applications will undoubtedly find ways to change their UIs to accommodate Apple’s unique interaction model. This will likely manifest itself as a lot of movement-focused tasks that allow physicians to take advantage of the patented multi-touch gestures exclusive to the iPad. Use cases are unlimited for patient education. A physician could, for example, pull up a diagram of the heart and manipulate it with touch gestures and by rotating the device to the preferred viewing angle, taking advantage of the iPad’s accelerometer. This would help the doctor explain a patient’s condition in a clearer and more engaging fashion than with a piece of paper.

Steve Jobs and his cohorts would’ve made it a lot easier on themselves if they’d included every feature the public demanded: camera, multitasking, stylus input, Flash support and so on. But the genius of Jobs has always been about the degree of difficulty. While everyone else is doing predictable tricks, Apple is making Shaun White like moves (check out McTwist 1260). And, just as we saw with White at the Winter Olympics – he who dares the extraordinary, risks falling, but also risks winning extraordinarily. Just gotta stick the landing.

Apple’s vision eclipses the desires of the mainstream and moves consumer technology in innovative directions. Yes, there is some reason for skepticism about the iPad’s impact on healthcare, but Apple did not release the product on a whim, nor will it be adverse to making significant changes to future versions (and maybe even reluctantly giving us that elusive stylus, and a more rugged housing designed for hospital use). The combination of Apple’s couldn’t-be-simpler (and sharply focused) user interface, commitment from an ever-growing app developer base, and the potential for future advances (think how far the iPod has come) mean that the iPad is here to stay in healthcare.


Thank you to UI Guy for kicking off HIStalk Mobile’s Readers Write. I welcome all comers. Please feel free to submit your own articles up to 500 words in length. The only requirements are that the article be original (as in not previously published elsewhere), and thought/opinion pieces and not thinly veiled advertisements.

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