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Apple's new connector may spur a health tech revolution -- but at a cost
Apple's transition from the traditional iPod/iOS device dock connector to the new Lightning port using in the iPhone 5 (and other upcoming products) is putting organizations that have adopted lots of iPads and iPhones in a difficult and costly position. As these workplaces adopt newer Apple devices, they will need to purchase adapters for existing accessories. Long-term, they'll probably have to replace a lot of these accessories entirely, as some devices or features may not work with an adapter.
For individual users and most businesses, this will be a nuisance. It may be a costly nuisance, but it's not impossible to manage.
For the healthcare industry, however, the change is much more disruptive. In fact, the shift may be a complete game-changer for how it deploys mobile technology.
The iPhone and iPad have become standard fixtures in any hospitals and medical practices. Some hospitals have literally been rebuilt around the iPad. iPhones and iPads have been integrated into virtually every aspect of medicine -- electronic records, patient information intake, medication compliance, emergency services, physical and occupational rehabilitation -- and virtually every specialty from general practice offices to oncology wards to dentistry.
Along the way, a plethora of health-related accessories have been created for use in the doctor's office, around the hospital, and for patients to monitor their own conditions from home. (Glucose and blood pressure monitoring are the poster children for at-home iOS device integration.) Even just buying adapters for every iOS accessory in a hospital or large medical center is a huge cost.
Plus, replacing those solutions may not be as easy as replacing the alarm clock on your nightstand. Many of these devices and the apps that pair with them have had to gain approval from the FDA before they could be put on the market. It's possible that just rebuilding a medical device around the new Lightning connector could require another round of FDA approval.
Ironically, that may help the industry take new steps forward when it comes to mobile solutions and devices used by healthcare workers and patients alike.
In an interview with MobiHealthNews earlier this year, Yogen Dalal (chairman and co-founder of Glooko, which created one of the most popular glucose monitoring solutions for iOS devices) said that Apple was encouraging vendors to shift away from dock connectors and use wireless connectivity instead.
Using a wireless model would actually be an industry-shaping step forward. It would allow companies developing healthcare solutions to design devices that weren't bound to specific physical connections. That could easily mean new devices would come with support for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and even Windows Phone support out of the box. It could also mean support for desktop computing platforms like Windows and Apple's OS X.
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Brandon Porco, the chief technologist for defense contractor Northrop Grumman, says that IT will have to try lots of different things and move quickly to keep abreast of evolving employee needs. "Google has it very well-patterned: Launch and iterate."
Although Apple is often accused of not being an enterprise company, it's only in the last few years that Apple has abandoned its enterprise-oriented products. The real story may be that Apple's discovered that making enterprise-focused efforts simply don't deliver a huge return on investment.
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