This week, Microsoft announced the end of Windows Mobile and introduced its successor, a completely redesigned platform called Windows Phone 7. While Microsoft’s creative energies don’t appear to have been expended on the new name, it may be because they were drained after redesigning just about everything else about their platform.
Even the more skeptical reviewers of Windows Phone 7 at least acknowledged the breadth of the overhaul of Microsoft’s mobile platform. Here at iMedicalApps, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the iPhone/iPad and the opportunities their unique user interface, ever expanding suite of medical apps, and other key features present for the medical world. One challenge we’ve frequently acknowledged, however, is that while many health care providers carry Apple in their pockets, Microsoft dominates the remainder of the healthcare world. And as more and more health systems look to adopt electronic medical records with mobile interfaces, Microsoft’s latest volley couldn’t have been at a more opportune moment.
Before delving into this, lets consider the qualities that made the iPhone OS popular in the first place. The obvious first point is the revolutionary iPhone OS user interface. If history is any guide, its hard to imagine that Microsoft will really come up with anything better than Apple. But that’s not what they need to do. For a shot at adoption in the healthcare world, they could probably get by with something that’s simply almost as good and let other strengths make up the difference. In any case, judging by the demo clips and information I’ve seen so far, it looks like Microsoft has created a distinct user interface that could be a lot of fun to use. But we’ll have have to wait and see.
The second key feature of the iPhone OS that makes it a hit in the medical world is it’s dynamic and active developer community. Apps range from low cost solutions for specialty-specific issues, such as apps for urology, to interfaces for EMR’s like the Haiku-Epic combination. Aside from the “hubs” (software that integrates information from multiple sources into one spot, such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail contacts into the People hub), there’s not enough information to yet assess what the developer community would face for Windows Phone 7. Hopefully, by MIX10 in mid-March, we’ll have some more information and a better idea of how Windows Phone 7 stacks up.
But the one area Windows Phone 7 is very likely to hold a clear advantage, especially in the medical world, rests on the mere fact that its a Microsoft product. Virtually every widely used EMR is on a Windows Operating System, so integrating a Windows-based mobile device would certainly be easier than an iPhone OS device. This also means integration with the Office suite, Outlook, and all of the other Microsoft enterprise software that is being used at virtually every hospital and health care practice in the country.
Plus, Microsoft is touting the fact that this new mobile OS will fit in perfectly with its rapidly growing SharePoint server software, basically the cloud component of Office. For health care centers already using Microsoft software, all of this represents an upgrade of what they already have, rather than having to deal with the obvious issues that would come with the iPhone OS.
All of that being said, its certainly not clear that these potential advantages will materialize nor that Microsoft can match the strengths of Apple. In addition, Google’s launch of Android, its movement towards cloud-based enterprise software, and its experience in information management are assets that suggest it will be a healthy competitor. For the foreseeable future, Apple holds an enormous lead thanks to its robust developer community, widespread acceptance, and the fact that it has demonstrated that Windows compatibility issues are surmountable (based on desktop experience). So for me, what is most exciting about this new Microsoft OS isn’t any inherent quality it has, but that it represents a legitimate new competitor entering the mobile medical world.