The reports are all over the web comparing the Android market share to iPhone’s market share (see one example here). These numbers are important for anyone in the mobile health space that’s considering their strategy for developing a mobile health application. The same goes for EHR vendors that are working on their mobile EHR strategy.
The reality as I see the mobile phone market share numbers is that Android is taking the lead when it comes to market share. No doubt, iPhone still has an incredibly compelling offering and many loyal fans. This is particularly true in healthcare where a doctor having an iPhone is in many ways a bit of a cool “status” symbol for the doctor. However, in the long term I think that even healthcare will see a similar market share shift to the Android over the iPhone as well.
Why am I so bullish on the Android in healthcare despite healthcare’s current love affair with the iPhone?
The core reason that I think the Android phones (and much of this could apply to tablets as well) will do very well as mobile health applications is because of how much customization is possible with Android devices. In fact, pretty much anything is possible on an Android phone because of the open source nature of the software. I expect many mobile health applications will need and want to exploit the flexibility and openness of Android over the iPhone.
One concern I do have about this idea is that Android does pose its own challenges for developers. In the case of the iPhone, you basically only have to code your application to work across a small handful of iOS versions and handsets. In fact, Apple has smartly made sure that many things remained the same across every iPhone. This makes developers lives much easier. In the case of Android, you have hundreds of possible handset combinations you have to consider when developing your application. This can be really hard to test and can often lead to a bad user experience for some Android devices.
In some ways, the current Android environment reminds me of the challenges we use to face (and still do today in some ways) in creating a webpage that worked across all the various web browsers. A lot of effort went into making sure your website worked everywhere. However, over time the standards have developed and this is much less of an issue today than it was when the internet first started. I believe the same will be true for Android.
The reality is that Android and iPhones are both here to stay for the foreseeable future. Most mobile health applications are going to have to be able to support both platforms. Some might say that we should just be glad that it’s only two platforms we have to worry about. We had a lot more than two to think about back during the internet browser wars.