Microsoft's newly announced tablet line called Surface has the potential to make waves in healthcare, but it's probably too early to know exactly what it will do.
The Microsoft hardware, featuring 10.6-inch screens and an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processors – the same type of CPU as the new Apple MacBook Air -- will be made for the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system, which will fully support touch-screen interfaces. Photos released by the Redmond Empire suggest that the home screen will feature the same kind of "tiles" found on the current generation of Windows smartphones. But Microsoft has not offered many additional details such as pricing, screen resolution, battery life or even whether it will have wireless connectivity beyond Wi-Fi.
Nor do we know when the tablets will go on sale or what they will cost.
Dr. Bill Crounse, Microsoft's worldwide senior director for health, tells MobiHealthNews that he is unable to say anything more that what was on the sparse Microsoft Surface website, but he does discuss Surface briefly on his official Microsoft blog.
"Among the speculation out there is how the medical community will respond to Microsoft Surface. After all, the tablet form factor has been extremely popular with clinicians. However, for many clinicians and IT staff, currently available models leave something to be desired when it comes to use in hospital and clinic environments," Crounse writes.
Crounse also links to a post on iMedicalApps by the well-known Dr. Iltifat Husain. Husain says he was "dreading" the announcement because Windows systems have caused plenty of headaches in the physician community over the years. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised.
"But after reading about the event, and looking at videos and pictures of the Surface, I felt an odd emotion — excitement. Microsoft has actually laid the framework to a compelling device," according to Husain.
"In an odd turn of events, [Microsoft's] lack of hardware expertise has actually benefited them in the post-PC [era]. Whereas Apple has to make sure they differentiate their hardware product lines, Microsoft does not. Apple has to make sure users purchase a tablet and a laptop, doing this by limiting the scope and functionality of iOS, along with hardware limitations — Microsoft doesn’t care. They are more than willing to include a robust OS — Windows 8 — with included HDMI and USB ports," Husain writes.
Surface tablets will be made out of metal, not plastic that gives so many low-end, consumer-targeted laptops a cheap, flimsy feel, and there is a keyboard built into an optional protective case. "It is impossible to do meaningful charting of patient histories using a touch screen — especially when it takes up half your screen’s real estate," according to Husain. The Microsoft product also will come with a stylus for another input option.
While the iPad only has the Apple dock connector, Microsoft's tablets will feature standard USB, HDMI and MicroSD card ports. Husain called USB 2.0 "essential" for hooking up external devices such as ultrasound probes because add-ons can draw power from the USB port.
Plus, Husain likes the apparent fact that the mobile version of Windows 8 will be a full-featured operating system comparable to that found on a traditional PC, not a watered-down version of a desktop OS.
At least one commenter on iMedicalApps said the Windows offering will put a quick end to BYOD in healthcare. "IT departments will be able to manage and secure this new device as it fits nicely within their existing Microsoft ecosystem," this commenter says. "This is a game changer in the enterprise market," especially if the big EHR systems vendors take advantage of the technology to modernize their software.
A number of iPad fans, including Chillmark Research's John Moore and DrChrono.com co-founder Daniel Kivatinos, were less enthusiastic in comments reported by eWeek. "I believe Microsoft will cede the healthcare sector to Apple," Moore is quoted as saying. "Will pricing be attractive enough for users to make the switch? Unlikely."