The future of personal communication

Published with permission of Animal Health 2.0


In case you have been living under a rock or just returned from your Mars trip, Apple has just launched their next iteration of personal computing: the iPad. The device is already a phenomenon from a marketing point of view, now it has to live up to its expectations.

Apple placed the bar pretty high. In a 1.5 hour presentation Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO and digital guru, exposed one feature after another. In short, the iPad is a 1.5 pounds, 9.7 inch aluminium embodied multitouch device which runs on the popular iPhone OS. Basically it’s a big ass iPod touch. Good thing is that the device will run the 140,000+ apps from the App Store out of the box. Developers can redesign their iPhone apps to make use of the screen estate, or develop apps specifically for the iPad. And now things are getting interesting.

So what does a product launch of a computer company has to do with Animal Health 2.0? For that, we need to take a step back and look at our big sister, Health 2.0.

Lack of style
The iPad -or at least we think- is trying to compete with several product categories, one of which is used pretty often in Health 2.0: the Tablet PC. The Tablet PC was already identified as a killer product by Bill Gates in 2003, but he was a bit too early. Although used a lot in human healthcare, the available devices always lacked the stylish form factor (take this one as an example) or -obviously- the polished and user friendly user interface. Some companies even designed a tablet specifically for healthcare, such as the C5 Mobile Clinical Assistant Tablet. The advantages for a tablet PC are a plenty: mobility, the ability to present something more easily, no need for a keyboard, lighter to handle.

One of the issues with common tablet PC’s is that the operating system is not really designed for touch. Most Tablet PS’s have to be operated using a stylus and interaction between the user and the software can feel a bit sluggish. Apple seems to have done their homework. As identified by MedicalTabletPC in a recent article, “it’s the Operating System, not the form factor”. They might be right. With the iPad’s multi-touch interface already field-tested by millions of users having an iPhone it sure is a breeze to use. And what about the App Store? With more than 10,000 apps for medical use in the App Store there’s no denying that the medical profession has a certain interest.

Horse manure
What about Animal Health? Are tablet PCs used here too? No doubt some forward-thinking veterinarians are making use of these devices, but to our knowledge this is a minority. Also no activity can be seen on a more commercial level, such as companies developing Tablet PC functionalities for Animal Health. This is strange, because such a device can have a significant value for the profession. Take a veterinarian for example. Many veterinarians have a rather mobile existence. Especially livestock veterinarians who sometimes drive many, many miles to a customer. Diagnosing or helping with farm management often requires access to information via a computer. But conditions are not always optimal. In a stable there are low light conditions, it can be cold and sometimes a lot of things are happening. Just popping out your new Dell laptop just doesn’t do it. Ever seen horse manure between your keys on your keyboard? But may be a iPad without keys might do the trick at those situations. But also showing the farmer the latest results of a lab test while the guy is walking around the premises would be a bit easier when you carry around an iPad.

Learning smarter, communicating better
And what about education? The iPad is already slated for the ‘next big thing’ for the K12 market. Having iTunes U (lectures in video and/or audio from many universities) within the hands of a veterinary student, instant access to the internet, specific apps for the curriculum and having all the study books on one device will have a profound impact om the way we learn.

Next up, the industry. No doubt the iPad will have to find its place between the commonly used laptop and the mobile phone. Will it cannibalize on the laptop or will it be a new product category, just as Steve Jobs is predicting? From a personal communication point of view -something the industry uses to sell their product or service- I can not think of a better device to convey a message to a customer than the iPad. Think of it as a brochure on steroids: interactive, multimedia and flexible. What else could you wish for? It’s common knowledge that the human pharmaceutical industry is exploring the use of iApps, such as J&J for example, and I have no doubt that the veterinary pharmaceutical industry will follow suit.

Talking pills – is there an App for that?
Finally a few words on the potential use of the iPad on the world of science (thus also veterinary science). It takes only a bit of imagination to realize that the ecosystem of the iPad, with the possibility to design specific apps for just about anything, will also spur innovation in this area. Many, many apps for science are already available on the App Store and more will follow now there’s more screen to use. In a recent article in the Economist Novartis invested $24 million to secure exclusive licences and options on drug-delivery technologies developed by Proteus Biomedical, a Californian start-up. According to the article the company has technology “which enables pills to relay data about a patient back to doctors after they have been swallowed”. And that data is being read by mobile devices, such as the iPad.

I personally believe the possibilities are endless. Just two days after the announcement of the iPad the nay-sayers are abundantly present. And albeit the iPad is not perfect yet, it’s pretty clear where this technology is taking us. Many clones will follow, and that’s good for innovation. I was listening to a podcast the other day, discussing the launch of the iPad. One of the guys made a remark that stuck with me: “Since this week, we officially entered the Star Trek-age”.

Here are some more articles on the use of the iPad in the health environment. Let it inspire us for the use in Animal Health.

Apple iPad: Promising Features For Healthcare Use and Medical Education

Five Lessons Apple must learn from current Healthcare Tablets if the Apple Tablet (iPad) is to Succeed in the Medical Industry

How the Apple Tablet (iPad) Could Transform the Way Patients Experience Healthcare

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