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Slates for Doctors? Where Apple’s Tablet Makes Dollars and Sense

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In some interesting tablet news that falls a little off the well-trod rumors path, Apple (s aapl) officials have apparently paid a visit to LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center a few times to talk up the potential of an Apple tablet in terms of the medical field. VentureBeat is reporting that these visits have been confirmed by Jason Wilk, an entrepreneur whose father plays golf with Cedars-Sinai executives.

It makes sense for Apple to test the waters in non-consumer markets where tablets have found some purchase in the past. The iPhone is making gains in enterprise, and is even used by many doctors because of the low cost and good design of a variety of medical database apps available on the device’s App Store.

Combining that kind of knowledge repository with a device that can replace a clipboard and act as a connected link to the hospital’s central database would obviously be something that might appeal to doctors. It would reduce the need for extraneous devices and trips back and forth from a central nursing station where information is collected and stored, and could conceivably lower wait times and increase patient turnover, an important concern in privatized health care.

Add to that the fact that even at the fairly high price that’s been rumored lately, around $1,000, the Apple slate would be a bargain. Currently, the Motion Computing C5 is one of the more successful devices in the medical tablet space, one that isn’t yet very crowded either. The C5 costs double the proposed price of the Apple tablet, a full $2,000 per unit. Specialized software for the device can add significantly to the overall cost health organizations end up paying for the tech.

If Apple manages to break into the medical market, and other industrial and commercial fields where tablet tech is useful, then the sales projections that have been floating around begin to make sense. One to one and a half million units per quarters seemed like an awful ambitious figure for the consumer market alone, especially for a device that seems to fit a very specific market niche. But imagine interactive exhibits at museums and exhibitions, self-service at retail chains and outlets, and, as we’ve just been discussing, doctors making rounds. In all of the above, an Apple tablet, at $1,000 or less, becomes a very sensible business proposition, especially if it makes use of the App Store platform for software, which should make it relatively inexpensive to source and develop custom applications to suit any and all needs.

17 Responses to “Slates for Doctors? Where Apple’s Tablet Makes Dollars and Sense”

  1. Todd is spot on about the Motion C5. Not even close to an Apple Tablet… David, an Intel Core 2 Duo – even at 1.06Ghz is over twice the processing power of the most powerful Intel Atom. The C5 runs Windows 7 perfectly, the same cannot be said for any atom devices that I have played with (i.e. lots).

    As for the hospital market… good luck with that! It will take many, many years for an investment in that market to pay off (as Motion computing well know). And that’s as it should be because you can’t go of half cocked with systems that impact people lives.

    BTW, you’ll go through at least 3 apple slates in the life cycle of a Motion C5 too… So don’t think the $1k price (if that’s what it is) is doing you any favours!

  2. Todd Steigerwald

    Let me explain why apples/oranges are not equal: Motion Computing is now 5 generations of Tablet development ahead of the ‘rumors’ that Apple has. The $2,000 C5/F5 like their others has real CPU dual-quad processing horsepower (not a whimpy net appliance or Iphone), 7 radios including RFID and GPS options. (not whimpy connectivity like iPhone) 9 antennas internal and great performance anywher. The MC J3400, C5, F5 have LCD display options that work in direct sunlight with unmatched clarity. Add that to the fact that C5/F5 waterproof, dustproof, and able to be dropped from 36″ on all corners without crashing. Now you might understand the $2000. A $1000.00 tablet would be ‘whimpy’ in every regard, a net appliance, and great for the whimpy masses (not real professionals who by Motion Computing products, and like real computers!). Sounds like Apple territory – they can have it.

    • DavidinMpls

      I looked up the specs on those machines, not the fastest in the world. Also the soul of the things are empty, i.e., its OS.
      I’d be surprised if Apple doesn’t make those looked horribly dated.

  3. As at Ton says, there should be some FDA filings if this is going to be used in hospitals. However I suspect the hospital needs of being able to use the device with gloves, it needing to cope with drops and falls. Security of the data and also the sanitisation and waterproofing of the device may all be questioned in this process.

    I’m not sure you can prove the end to end safety case for the OS which means that apps won’t potentially be able to get fda approval or at least will make it a lot harder. This is why companies like GE and Cardinal Health exist. They design to the requirements of the user and the FDA.

    Saying that if they do manage to do it then it will force the big medical companies to start thinking leading edge technology innovation which would be no bad thing.

  4. iphonerulez

    Those Apple officials were just going to the hospital for routine medical exams. Probably had nothing to do with Apple’s tablet.

    Besides, aren’t those hospitals all using Microsoft PCs and software managed by those old-school IT personnel who live and die by the Microsoft code of ethics. It’s either the Microsoft way or the highway. I wouldn’t give much credence to Apple getting into the hospitals or any other businesses that are ruled by IT managers who’ve built their whole careers around the cult of Microsoft. They’ve already made their pact with Steve Ballmer’s minions a long time ago. Look for those IT guys to go with the H-P tablet because it’s something they can fully appreciate being the Microsoft sycophants that they are.

  5. FDA approval or equivalent. The paper trail will show. The device will have to have been designed to meet hospital guidelines if they’re going to be on wards? Or would approval not be needed for private hospitals?(lawsuits necessitate pre meditation and design to be able to pass requirements rIght?)

    • @ton, I agree. We work in the food processing industry. All our touch devices need to be IP-65 or better (some customers require IP-69) and must be built from high grade stainless steel.

      The number of standards and certifications for the different components – especially the casing – is a minefield.

      Our touch devices have to be able to withstand chemical cleaning with a high pressure lance. I don’t see an iPad or iSlate being up to that.

      App Stores are also pretty irrelevant in these situations, they need to be able to run Line-of-business applications, most of which were probably written a decade ago!

      Our terminals run either Linux (LTSP server booting or an SSD with SUSE) or Windows 7. But the OS is pretty much irrelevant, the user never sees the OS, as they are launched into a specific app, which is all they need.

      They don’t, generally, need a web browser or internet access, they just need half a dozen big buttons to press, as the carcasses pass in front of the user.

      I think the iSlate might fit nicely into some vertical markets, but a lot of these touch scenarios need something much simpler than iOS can, currently, provide. iOS doesn’t provide the configurability or the ability to lock the device down enough for many applications.

  6. The biggest advantage in the medical field that I see is the ability to disinfect these items with relative ease. My doctor carries a laptop from exam room to exam room, potentially carrying the microbes from one patient to the next. This tablet, which I expect to be similar in form to the iphone (just bigger, obviously), would be easy to wipe off with a non-corrosive or non-abrasive disinfectant between patients which could help tremendously with preventing infectious disease transmission.

  7. quandmeme

    That Motion Computing hardware looks very good. I don’t expect the iSlate (hateit) to be easily santizable, have industrial docking solutions, or have removable batteries.

    BUT remember the glucose reader from the OS3 demos, that protocol for connecting devices is very cool and apple will do that right.

    Plus, when I think of Tablet PC dedicated apps, I think of touchscreen kiosks that seem contaminated by the OS (and frequently dump you back there).