iPad Mini's 'in-the-pocket' form factor will play well in healthcare

Tech industry analysts report that the iPad Mini, introduced Nov. 2, will help Apple reach at least 100 million units sold among its tablet line in 2013. To put that in perspective, it took Apple two-and-a-half years to sell its first 100 million iPads.

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So far, the healthcare industry has been reacting favorably to the 7.9-inch Mini.

"The key is the size," said Marianne Braunstein, vice president of product management for Epocrates, who noted that one-third of physicians who responded to a survey prior to the iPad Mini's release indicated they were going to purchase one. "This is really something that physicians can carry around. You're going to see favoritism based on size."

The Mini joins a crowded field of tablets both small and large, including Apple's own iPad 2 and the fourth-generation iPad (both of which measure in at 9.7 inches). And while tech reviews have targeted screen sharpness and aspect ratio – as well as its $329 retail price tag – some healthcare experts say the Mini is going to fill a niche in clinical circles that hasn't been met.

[See also: Tablet adoption goes mainstream among physicians]

"This fits right into the pocket of a lab coat," added Ash Shehata, Cisco's senior executive director for healthcare in the Americas. He said Cisco had seen positive reviews of its own seven-inch tablet before that device was phased out.

Both Braunstein and Shehata said the development of smartphones and smaller tablets like the Mini will challenge larger tablets for relevance in the clinical setting, enabling doctors and nurses to carry around two devices rather than lining their belts with a variety of gadgets.

"You're balancing life and work and better efficiency," remarked Braunstein. She said physicians have been looking for a "bridge" between their smartphone – which they'll always carry around with them – and the larger tablet or stationary PC, which will remain in the clinical setting for more complex uses.

"You're looking for an in-between that enhances the utilization of technology and workflows," she added.

Shehata pointed out that physicians making their rounds, or doctors working in a clinic, don't need mobile devices that "do everything" because they don't want to be overwhelmed with tasks and chores that don't necessarily need to be done remotely. The challenge lies in creating a tablet and populating that device with apps that improve the clinician's interaction with the patient and make the best use of the clinician's time.

Shehata said the future lies in creating a network of cloud-based services that gives clinicians access to all the data they need while ensuring security. This would address "application convergence" by giving users a platform on which to pick and choose what they need to access. And it would compel developers and IT departments to create simpler apps.

"They need to be designed [to be] more efficient," he said. "As the cloud begins to emerge as a delivery vehicle, it's going to be easier for the user to create unique workflows."

Not everyone is sold on the Mini, though. In an interview with eWeek, Gregg Malkary, Spyglass Consulting's founder and managing director, said the Mini's smaller screen size could have a negative effect on accessing applications or entering data.

"If all you're going to be doing is accessing reference tools through the drug database, it could be an excellent tool," Malkary told eWeek. "For those [who] require data entry, there has to be a better way."

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