Apple iPad: The device healthcare has waited for?

By Brian Dolan
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iPadApple confirmed the rumors today and unveiled a tablet device, which looks like a giant iPhone, called iPad. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his team of presenters at Apple's iPad launch event this morning did not mention the healthcare vertical as a key market for the iPad: It looks to be just that. The iPad holds promise as a new point-of-care tool for healthcare workers and as a personal health device for patients.

The iPad will run "almost" all of the 140,000 applications currently available for the iPhone and iPod touch in the company's iTunes AppStore, according to Jobs. Given the iPad's much larger screen (9.7 inches diagonal), the apps can run in their normal size as a smaller window on the iPad or can be "blown up" to fit most of the screen. That means all 4,980 health and fitness apps currently available in the AppStore are immediately available to iPad users. That is the key leg up that Apple's new iPad has on other medical tablets -- a built-in application library of almost 5,000 apps. Apple said that iPhone/iPod touch users can port their already purchased apps over to the iPad without having to pay for them again, which is likely welcome news for healthcare workers currently relying on their iPhones and eyeing an iPad.

iPad 2Apple is offering the iPad at a number of different price points: The WiFi only iPads (no cellular connectivity) run 16GB for $499; 32GB for $599; and 64GB for $699. With 3G the iPad is a bit pricier: 16GB for $629; 32GB for $729; and 64GB for $829.

The device is half an inch thin, weighs 1.5 pounds, and has up to 10 hours of battery life (one month in stand-by mode). Much like the iPhone and iPod touch, the iPad comes with 3G or without. Both versions of the device include WiFi (802.11n) Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR as well as an accelerometer, compass, speaker, mic and dock connector. The touchscreen also includes some 1,000 sensors for touch.

For the 3G iPads, Apple is working with AT&T (same carrier as the iPhone) to offer two data plans: $14.99 month gets iPad users up to 250MB of data, while the unlimited plan is $29.99 a month. The plans require no contract so users can cancel them anytime. AT&T is also offering free connectivity at their WiFi hotspots. The 3G device also works with unlocked GSM SIM cards, so if a carrier offers data SIMs, Apple says it will work with the iPad.

Jobs likened the new device to the netbook groups of devices that sit between smartphones and laptops in terms of functionality and use cases. While the iPad sits between smartphones and laptops as a category, Jobs said the new device is very different from a netbook.

Jobs noted that in order to be a success, the iPad needs to "far better at doing some key tasks... better than the laptop and smartphone. What kind of tasks? Things like browsing the web... enjoying and sharing photos, videos, enjoying music, playing games, reading e-books.” Jobs explained that the iPad has to be better at these tasks or it has no reason for being. While some skeptics have told Jobs that the iPad is just a netbook, he quipped that the problem with netbooks is that they aren't better than smartphones or laptops at doing anything -- "They are just cheap laptops," he quipped.

Earlier this month, details about Epic Systems’ partnership with Apple for a mobile phone-based electronic health record (EHR) application came to light when Epic System’s iPhone application, Haiku, became available on Apple’s AppStore. Like all iPhone apps, Haiku will work on the iPad device, too. For mobile EHR apps though, the increased screen size will likely be very helpful for those clinicians aiming to use images on the platform for making any kind of diagnostic decisions.

Of course, healthcare providers may also see the iPad as another platform they could use to connect with their patients: Mayo Clinic recently partnered with smartphone application developer DoApps to form a new start-up, called mRemedy, which is focused on creating health apps for smartphones. mRemedy, which formed just a few weeks ago, is creating apps with Mayo based on the provider’s research and services.

While more physicians are adopting smartphones and iPhones' popularity is growing at the fastest clip, we wonder if the iPad will cannibalize iPhone usage inside care facilities. Will the iPad replace the iPhone for clinicians? Will it find strong adoption among care providers? What's your take?