The iPad and Thoughts On Usage in Libraries and Hospitals

By now it seems like everybody has weighed in on the iPad, so of course I feel compelled to add my .02 cents. 

I like the concept of an iPad, I just am not sure I like the iPad.  Personally, I think Steve Jobs needs to get over his anti Adobe Flash issues (Dude Steve, Flash works on my PC just fine, maybe it is Apple’s fault *gasp* that it is buggy on Mac platforms…just a thought.) According Adobe,  70%-75% of games and video content is Flash, I have no way to verify that data since it comes from Adobe and not a third party.  But it seems like whenever I am on my iPhone and I want to look at SlideShare, an Internet movie, or animation, I get the broken Lego that tells me Flash isn’t loaded.  Hopefully HTML5 will be the answer to our animation and video prayers for iPhone users, because I don’t see Jobs backing down.  Until there is an answer to the Flash (or lack of Flash) problem, it will be difficult to use the iPad for animation or Internet video purposes.  Why is this a problem?  there are lots of great medical animations and videos on surgeries, exercises, procedures, etc. that are very beneficial to professionals as well as consumers.

Flash is just one of the video problems the iPad suffers from.  Apparently the iPad’s 1024×768 pixels and 4:3 ratio presents some problems for videos.  If all of those numbers sounded like gobbelty gook then let me say that the iPad plays videos at the same scale as an old CRT television set.  Forget watching an HD movie, wide screen films, and movies in other formats. For examples of what happens, check out this post on TUAW. It seems most of the people upset by this are videophiles.  But combine the scaling problems with no Flash, and the iPad is limited for medical professionals and patients to view educational medical videos.

Another big problem is iPad’s 3G network, AT&T.  I swear the groan that came forth from millions of people could be heard ’round the world.  I would bet the American iPhone users already stuck on a glacial 3G network were doing more than groaning.  Luke Wilson may be able to surf and talk at the same time, I just hope his friend has no more game show questions for him to answer quickly.  Supposedly AT&T is ready for the iPad and says they can handle it.  Yet according to The New York Times, AT&T “largely expects the iPad to be used in coffee shops and at home, where users can rely on Wi-Fi, as opposed to dragging down the company’s 3G network.” Oh boy, this just has disaster written all over it.  Please AT&T prove me wrong.

Digital formats.  If you are planning on using the iPad to read books, you need to know that Apple is using the digital book formatcalled EPUB, which is different from Amazon.  I have no idea what specific medical books are available in EPUB’s format, but the TUAW reports, 0ther ebook readers use this format: Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, iRex Digital Reader, and the iRiver Story. Some of the publishers that will be on the iPad are Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette.  Whether you believe Jobs was angry at Harold McGraw for leaking iPad information or not, McGraw-Hill has plans for its books on the iPad. In an interview on CNBC (the day before the iPad debuted) Harold McGraw stated (video link) “We have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you’re going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific.”

If they are opening up the higher education and professional market, there are still a lot of hurdles that need to be accomplished.  John Halamka, Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chief Information Officer at Harvard, AND Joseph Leiter Lecturer at MLA 2010 wrote a post on the iPad and the ideal clinical device.  His ideal clinical device is:

  • Less than a pound and fits in a white coat pocket
  • Battery life for an 8-12 hour work shift
  • Sturdy
  • Built in full keyboard, voice recognition and very robust touch screen input
  • Provides a platform for a variety of healthcare applications hosted on the device or cloud.

According Halamka, no device is completely there yet, but the iPad may be closer than other devices like the netbooks, laptops, iPhones, and Kindles. 

Personally I believe the platform and applications for healthcare is going to be the biggest hurdle.  I said it once before, finding a Mac in a hospital is about as rare as finding a vegetarian in Outback Steakhouse.  They are there, but not always, and don’t count on them to work within the system.  The vast majority of regular hospital departments do not work with Macs and have no intention of working with Macs.  Despite some growth and development in the iPhone EMR app side of things (EPIC has an iPhone app), very few hospitals support iPhones because they are still viewed as a personal device within hospital IT departments.  The hospital IT world is still very much PC and Blackberry. 

Scandinavian librarian, Thomas Brevik, has an interesting short post on what the iPad might mean to libraries.  He predicts that it will “fuel reader demand for e-books.”  He also sees two main challenges for the iPad in libraries, delivery of content and reader habits.

Brevik’s perspective seems to be primarily from the public library side of things.  Even so, the content issue is big.   Thomas specifically writes about content and e-books and libraries.  I think the content issue is bigger than that.   From what I could tell from the iPad release, the only things that will run on an iPad are apps (similar to the iPhone).  So in order for you content to be displayed or used on the iPad, you are either going to have write an app (or subscribe to a library program that has an app) or have all of your programs/services/resources available through Safari web browser….and also not have Flash. 

I don’t know if the iPad will make an immediate big splash in healthcare and or medical libraries.   However, in typical Apple form they have turned up the heat on the portable market.  They have created a really cool portable device for under $500.  I anticipate us seeing more changes due to the ripples the iPad has caused by jumping into the ultraportable pool that has been dominated by inexpensive netbooks.  It makes for interesting times.  Who would have thought in 2000 that ten years later would have one of the most popular music players that is also a phone?

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