Readers Write 3/22/10

Microsoft Throws Interesting Win 7 Mobile Ingredients into the MIX

By The UI Guy

When Steve Ballmer failed to unveil the Courier tablet at CES 2010, the blogosphere went back to ignoring Microsoft (who we’ll call MSFT for fun) as everyone from techies to cable news presenters – who wouldn’t know a mobile app from a hole in the ground – switched their child-like attention spans to the Apple hypefest.

While all eyes were on Steve Jobs and co., MSFT debuted the Windows Phone 7 Series in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress 2010. This announcement garnered some media attention, but it was a mere sideshow during the iPad circus. Undaunted, Microsoft continued to work on practical tools for the 7 series – including those that could have more impact on the healthcare mobility space than anything with an “i” prefix.

Last week MSFT delighted its developer and designer base, which far exceeds Apple’s in depth, breadth and business focus, with the release of a new toolkit for the Windows 7 phone at the Mix10 show. Not too many surprises, as we knew that most likely the new mobile OS would be a flavor of Silverlight. However with the launch of Silverlight 4 Beta, MSFT has opened up a dedicated suite that was built from the ground up to support the new Windows Mobile 7 OS.

This is a strong strategic move for Ballmer, Gates et al. With the SDK being primarily a flavor of Silverlight software, vendors and app developers that focus on the .net framework will be able to re-purpose their work for the Win Mo 7 platform with ease.

In contrast to Apple, which let its developer base figure out its SDKs for themselves, Microsoft has essentially created a plug and play kit with transparent and usable features. With Blend 4, a user simply opens the program, and selects “Open a new template for Windows Mobile.” It’s then just a matter of porting over previous work. Anyone that’s a MSFT developer is now a WinMo developer. There is no learning curve, and traditional Windows apps can become fully functional on WinMo 7 devices within weeks. Yes, you read that right. Think of the possibilities.

Too often we distill the viability of a platform to the number of its available apps. If you believed the mainstream press, you’d think that Apple is in an unassailable position because of the sheer quantity of offerings in its App Store. But when it comes to impacting business, including healthcare, volume counts for nothing. Healthcare providers need focused applications that solve real-world problems. MSFT is making it easier for developers to create these by taking the hassle out of SDK use.

There could be some very interesting things done with some of the preliminary components of the tool kit including:

  • Hardware acceleration for video and graphics
  • Accelerometer for motion sensing
  • Multi-touch
  • Camera and microphone
  • Location awareness
  • Push notifications
  • Native phone functionality

Two of these – the accelerometer and multi-touch capability may not overcome objections from Applephiles, but they do at least put MSFT on a level footing in two areas dominated until now by Apple.

Yet, arguably the most important to note is the native push notifications. Whether you use Gmail, Outlook or any other e-mail system, you likely get e-mail notification bubbles in the bottom right corner of your screen when new messages arrive. The new Microsoft platform will enable software developers to create similar real-time notifications, but via the OS instead of a browser.

For a hospital using enterprise forms management, relevant users, such as nurses, could be notified on their WinMo devices when a newly admitted patient’s forms are incorporated into the EHR, prompting them to prepare for that patient’s arrival on the clinical floor. There are dozens of other possible use cases across the facility for those staff that need up to date access to information outside of a browser environment.

Location awareness could also be significant, as healthcare software could present information only relevant to where a care provider is. For example, a physician who is registered at several hospitals would be presented with a targeted set of patient data depending on which location he or she was at. This would enable clinicians to be more focused, by eliminating redundant information.

The second interesting release last week was the debut of Internet Explorer 9. What I found most interesting is the support for HTML 5, and more importantly SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). It’s great to see MSFT heading into this space sooner than later, indicating that they will be at the forefront of providing UI development and design tools for this powerful new iteration of HTML.

Much of the concern within the design space is that there has not been any real design software released specifically for HTML 5. Microsoft’s splash in HTML will likely spur Adobe to make further enhancements to Flash, leading to competition-fueled innovation that has been previously lacking. As with the WinMo 7 SDK toolkit, developers are salivating over the prospect of intuitive, usable development tools that will enable them to bring high-impact healthcare technology to mobile users. It promises to be an interesting few months for Windows watchers. MSFT may not have the pizzaz of its fruitily-named competitor, but when it comes to moving healthcare IT mobility forward, the Seattle-based powerhouse is proving it cannot be ignored.

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