CMIOs set to begin testing BlackBerry PlayBook

By: Neil Versel | Apr 20, 2011        

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BlackBerryPlayBookeUnityIf, as some have suggested, the new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is dead on arrival at least in healthcare, the folks at Research in Motion aren’t acting that way. Nor is the maker of BlackBerry publicly discouraged by reports that Apple’s iPad already dominates among physicians and other health professionals or the fact that other supposed iPad killers have gone by the wayside. Remember the Cisco Cius?

Fraser Edward, senior marketing manager for life sciences at Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM, is emphasizing the PlayBook’s form factor, power, multitasking support and web rendering capabilities. “We do strongly believe that it’s a good fit in healthcare,” Edward tells MobiHealthNews.

The PlayBook has a dual-core processor and runs an operating system developed by QNX Software Systems, a company RIM acquired a year ago. Edward says that gives the new tablet “multitasking power,” an important feature in healthcare, where few software applications are well integrated. The tablet, which weighs less than a pound and has a 7-inch screen (compared to the 1.6-pound iPad and 1.3-pound iPad 2, each of which boasts a 9.7-inch display), can fit in a lab coat. “It’s a very light and tight device,” Edward says.

“The other piece of the PlayBook that we really knocked out of the park is the web experience,” Edward says. Unlike the iPad—and current BlackBerry smartphones—the PlayBook can display Flash animations. It also has a 1080p Micro HDMI output. In healthcare, this means physicians can plug their tablets into TVs in hospital rooms to show HD video and hi-res images to patients and their families.

The PlayBook features a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 3-megapixel camera on the front. “Videoconferencing is going to be very crisp,” Edward says.

PlayBook will be able to support Android apps, though not directly from Google’s Android Market. “Android [code] can be recompiled,” according to Edward. “It’s really a tool for developers.” RIM promises further details at the annual BlackBerry World conference the week after next.

In healthcare, RIM is counting on the web capabilities more than apps to make the PlayBook more usable. (Edward says other platforms—read “Apple iOS”—are more app-dependent because they have inferior browsers that don’t support Flash.) Edward mentions Cerner and McKesson as health IT vendors that support the PlayBook by “leveraging web capabilities” of the tablet through their remote-access portals.

A few are developing native apps, though. Back in October, the first live demonstration of the PlayBook featured the Client Outlook eUnity MRI viewer. MedCalc3000 reportedly is offering its mobile medical calculator for the PlayBook, too.

Other than that, there wasn’t much pre-launch use by healthcare customers, however. “We’ve been playing show-and-tell for several months now,” Edward says, but not a lot of beta testing in healthcare.

Edward says RIM has shipped some units this week to members of the Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems (AMDIS), an organization that represents chief medical information officers.

In an e-mail AMDIS CEO Rich Rydell says some “CMIOs and their physician colleagues in a variety of organizations throughout the U.S.” will “test drive” the devices and provide feedback to RIM.

Elements that may kill the PlayBook’s chances include the fact it does not have native support for e-mail—historically a strength of BlackBerry—nor is there a cellular Internet option, leading some to speculate RIM rushed the product to market so it doesn’t fall farther behind Apple. (Apple did sell the original iPad with just Wi-Fi before making 3G models available a couple of weeks later.)

Edward tries to downplay those shortcomings by noting that many of those who will buy a PlayBook already have BlackBerry smartphones that can connect wirelessly to the tablet by Bluetooth. “You can leverage the 3G radio on the BlackBerry without getting a second data plan,” Edward says.

Of course, a second data plan isn’t an option yet because the launch version of the PlayBook doesn’t have 3G. Edward says that PlayBook will have a native e-mail client by summer and that RIM will be introducing models later in the year that will be compatible with the Wi-Max, LTE and GSMA flavors of 4G.

PlayBook won’t pair with non-BlackBerry smartphones for security reasons, according to Edward. “We’re trying to make sure it all works,” he says.