Android and iPhone pros and cons for healthcare

by Jeff Brandt

I wrote an article for KevinMD.com several months ago discussing the benefits of Android for the healthcare market. I also compared Android with the iPhone.   I listed the iPhone’s technical shortcomings and really angered the “believers of all things Apple”.  That was not my intent.

Apple’s latest release of iPhone 4.0 and their new operating system (OS) 4.0 corrects many of the problems that I mentioned.  The shortcomings or benefits of a device are not the focus of this article.   I am going to speak to the general philosophies of the two OS and let you make up your mind on which OS is better for your healthcare facility or personal/business use.

The Apple iPhone, as you know, is built on the premise of two primary factors: ease of use and a one vendor solution.  My definition of ease of use: the reduction of complexity to reduce cognitive involvement.  This is similar to the evening news which is written and delivered to be comprehended by a person with an eighth grade education.  I am not suggesting that the iPhone is for people with less intelligence—it is just marketing. Steve Jobs knows that if Apple hits the ease-of-use sweet spot, they will grab the majority part of the market.   The one vendor solution also reduces some of the problems of compatibility, e.g., apps for the iPhone are available only through the Apple iTunes website.  The only issue with this solution is that you are locked into one place to purchase music—or any app.

Android to the contrary has built an open source operating system to run on many phones from many manufacturers.  Android is not a phone, it is an OS.  Manufacturers may license the OS for any phone that they choose. They can also change or add to the OS as needed.  Android’s premise is to allow developers to build apps to the specifications and needs of the end user/customer, not to the needs and desires of the manufacturer of the phone or Google, the company that originally developed the Android OS.  The developer may also choose where their apps are marketed and sold.  There are numerous stores online where you can purchase Android apps, including the Google Market apps store.

Now for the pros and cons of both.

  • First, both operating systems of Apple and Android are based on UNIX, an OS that was built at ATT/Bell Labs in 1969.  The primary difference is the interface for both developer and user (owner of phone).  Apple has marketed the iPhone extremely well and it is a great phone for many users.  Studies have shown that most iPhone users do not purchase apps; many do not even use free apps.
  • The iPhone user is locked into accruing software, hardware and even music from a single vendor and store, the Apple owned iTunes.  CIO/CMIOs know the risk and potential disaster this can present for a mission critical environment like healthcare.  With the Apple solution you have the choice of one phone.  A single manufacturer’s hardware failure would leave an organization with few options.  The latest antenna problem with the iPhone’s new 4.0 is a good example of what I am referring to.  With the Android solution you are not locked into a single manufacturer.   At the end of 2009 there were 18 devices to choose from.
  • Apple’s “one size fits all” solution does provide some benefits. There are not as many issues with compatibility of devices or OS, although the iPhone 4.0 OS does not run on some of the  older iPhones.  Android apps can have problems with apps not running on all released OS versions from different manufacturers.  If the developer is not knowledgeable of these issues or fails to test their apps on all OS versions, yes there are issues.  These Android incompatibility problems are isolated to specific phones, thus you are still not limited to one phone. So, an enterprise solution would not be affected.
  • The Android user interface does take a few extra minutes to learn—not that it is difficult, it just has more options (buttons) for more features.   I have heard rumors that Android is planning to offer an OS feature that provides a similar interface as the iPhone.
  • The only other major consideration when choosing smartphones and mobile device solutions is that you must be concerned about the carrier selection, or should I say lack of.  The iPhone is only available on AT&T (in the US) at this time.   Redundancy and a single point of failure is an issue for mission critical systems.  Android is available on multiple carriers such as Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.

The iPhone and Android smartphones are basically both very good devices.   The user or the institutional IT leader must examine the pros and cons for their business or personal use.   For the normal everyday end user, either phone is a good choice.

My prediction is that in a few years, we will look back and laugh about these issues.  However, the incompatibility issues of their OS is a detriment to end users.  The future of application and OS compatibility will become less of an obstacle as the cloud and wireless broadband market matures.

Jeff Brandt is President of Communication Software, Inc., makers of the motionPHR.  This article originally appeared in Telecare Aware.

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