What makes a successful mobile device?

I typically don’t title my posts with a question but it begs to be answered with the imminent release of Apple’s iPad.  Frankly… I’m frustrated with all the media fanfare around how tablet based computing is “now” going to revolutionize the industry.  Tablet PC’s have been around for for 10-15 years.  It’s not the hardware in as much as it is the software running on these devices that have been the problem with adoption.  Software also being inclusive of the operating systems that power the devices.  Initial incarnations of the slate based devices tried to take a desktop OS like Windows, and with the help of some task bar utilities (and who doesn’t love more of those cluttering your interface) would create a platform for mobile professionals.  The result was that year over year software vendors continued to make their mouse and keyboard driven desktop applications function in the confines of a cumbersome keyboard and mouse driven OS by pecking at a temperamental resistive touch screen display on a mobile device.  And we wonder why software solution have a hard time getting used by providers and clinicians.

What was needed was a truly mobile and touch driven OS and SDK like Apple provided in their iPhone to help developers conform to building applications that did not rely on technologies that didn’t exist on the hardware like a mouse.  This was needed because no one had stepped up to the challenge in a market dominated almost exclusively by Microsoft.  Linux was in its infancy in the mobile space back then but today the Android OS has certainly stepped up to the challenge the iPhone has presented in the mobile device space and is providing a competitive platform against which Apple may have a hard time competing if the innovations in the open source world continue to leapfrog apple.

My issues with mobile computing in healthcare revolve around technologies that get in the way of providers and clinicians doing their core job which is attending to patients and not fumbling through hundreds of check boxes and interfaces designed to be used on a desktop.  Vendors need to realize just because you can run your application on a tablet PC doesn’t mean you should.  Let me repeat….Just because you CAN run your application on a tablet based device DOESN’T mean you should.  If an application is architected properly then there should always be a layer of abstraction between the interface and the underlying core enterprise services that drive that interface.  I’m not hating on Microsoft for providing Windows Tablet OS as I think they have considerably innovated in this area to help vendors use their legacy applications on mobile slate and convertible based platforms.  Multiple modalities for inputting data such as handwriting, voice, and predictive text recognition are all very good tools.  I think they were smart to merge these functions into the standard Windows 7 build and not offer a separate OS as they have in the past.

More interesting is the total rewrite of their mobile platform with Windows Mobile 7.  This ground-up initiative from Redmond is akin to becoming more like iPhone and Android operating systems but paves the way for more svelte hardware with mobile chip sets that can extend battery life without sacrificing performance.  Microsoft is bringing XAML to the mobile platform and leveraging their gaming SDK for development which eliminates any backward compatibility with pre-Windows Mobile 7 apps but I don’t view this as a bad thing.  New platform new apps…  Microsoft has long since reached the breaking point at which they need to support legacy applications and this new direction and outlook toward supporting the mobile user should be a refreshing change for developers.  A lot of our new development revolves around innovating in the user interface with Rich Internet Application (RIA) technologies such as Silverlight.  It makes us think differently about how applications are used and more importantly how it enables our users (physicians and clinical staff)  to do their job more effectively not insert yet another technology that gets in their way.

It has been a while since I posted an entry but my entire team and I have been hard at work maintaining existing applications and plugging away at UI and WCF service development.   Stay tuned…as we plug through our iterations and get ready to deploy our app I’ll share with you some of what WellMed is doing to “change the face of healthcare for seniors…”