This week while attending a health informatics conference I heard something interesting from the chief information officer at a large hospital system. He said, “Sorry, Microsoft, I do not envision installing Windows 8 anywhere”, the reason being that the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini have become the de facto standard devices used by professionals in his hospital. This is not likely to be an isolated case in the healthcare industry. The day after, there was a report of a large drop in sales of personal computers.
Mobile devices offer the advantages of lower cost, more portability, instant on and constant connectedness to the Internet. The less obvious advantage is the development of the app infrastructure for software. Software for the PC tends to come in big packages, which have lots and lots of features and, consequently, complicated interfaces to manage them all. Most users access only a few of the features but still have to deal with the complexity created by those they do not use.
At an Apple developers conference I attended shortly after the launch of the iPhone, the message was that a well-designed app would tend to do one thing very well. Apps are much more specialized than traditional PC software and the app store creates a market where users can pick and choose the features they need and configure their devices to have a custom tool at hand. There are online communities and reviews to advise which apps work best. If users do not like one of the features (apps), they can replace it, usually at a low or no cost. So while every PC owner in an organization may have the same version of Microsoft Office, no two people will likely have the exact same set of apps. They each will have a personal collection of apps that suits how they work and organized in a way they can understand.
Although many apps are focused on personal use, there are a growing number that support specific professions. There are more emerging each day for the healthcare industry (see top eighty health apps). The potential for future developments are described by Eric Topol about his book, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care” and are summarized in this TED talk:
There are a number of good apps available to those in the education profession. Here is one guide. Despite this PCs/laptops are still predominant in education and many institutions are still dependent on large PC-like packaged software, such as what is commonly referred to as a learning management system. It will be interesting to see if this will one day be replaced by a set of apps on mobile devices.