Toolkits

mHealth App Selection - Hardware

Given the variables in mobile devices, it is premature to discuss medical monitoring apps without an overview of the mobile hardware that will host such apps.  An ‘app’ is simply software that is programmed in a language that will work on a given mobile operating system. As such, we’ll begin the apps discussion with a summary of the types of devices on which apps are commonly used.  

The nature of the mobile device market is constantly changing, but general categories of devices have emerged.  These are cellular phones, tablets, and laptops, and the peripheral devices that lend them to use in clinical settings. 

Cellular Phones

Tablets

Laptops

Associated Medical Peripherals

Cellular Phones

The cellular phone has been around in the consumer market since 1983. In the years since its introduction, the cell phone has developed from a relatively simple and straight-forward device for making phone calls into a complex, miniature computer that provides a full range of audio, video, photography, and software services.

Within the cell phone market, there are several categories of product that are significantly different from one another. The main categories for cellular phones are simple phones, feature phones, and smart phones. The smart-phone market is the one that most US-based consumers will be familiar with, and is where most of the advertising and development money is being spent. These are also the phones capable of running the apps that are the focus of this toolkit.

Modern smart phones typically consist of a multi-core processor with a touch-screen interface, and support a wide range of software applications and peripheral interfaces. These devices typically connect to high-speed cellular networks, and also allow switching to Wi-Fi access points for Internet use. Smart phones often use one of six predominant operating systems - Android, Blackberry, iOS, Web OS, or Windows - though the majority of the smart phone market consists of iOS and Android devices. The market is flooded with mHealth apps written to work on any of these operating systems.

Tablets

Once derided as underpowered laptops without a keyboard, modern tablets have become an increasingly popular alternative to cell phones and laptops. These products often include a processor that is more powerful than a smart phone but less powerful than a PC or laptop, they utilize an operating system with a touchscreen interface, and they support a range of peripherals and attachments. Some products support both cellular service and Wi-Fi interfaces, while others only offer Wi-Fi options for connecting to the Internet. The standard form factor for tablets, which once was focused on diagonal screen measurement of at least 10 inches, has become less clear. Some manufacturers are producing sub-10 inch products in the 7-inch range, which has created a new marketing term for the "phablet", or phone-tablet. Others designs focus on creating tablets with options for keyboard-based docking stations.

Laptops

Some technologists would hesitate to place laptops into the category of mobile devices, as they tend to have more in common with desktop computers in terms of processing power, operating systems, and user interfaces. It can just as easily be argued that laptops fit within the mobile descriptor, as some have built-in cellular connectivity, and others can be connected to cellular networks with a USB attachment.  A trend has been developing to produce lighter and smaller laptops in the netbook and ultra-light category. Hybrid laptops also provide the option of rotating the keyboard to the back of the device, which turns the screen into a touch interface very similar to the interface used on tablets and smart phones.

Medical Peripherals

A wide range of products are offered as peripherals to mobile devices, with functions including protecting the device, personalizing it, providing additional input or output options, and transmitting medical data. An increasing number of peripherals are used to collect information related to patient health, including heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels.

Medical peripherals include devices that can be found in a consumer's home as well as a clinical setting. Examples of these products include pulse oximetry monitors, blood pressure monitors, and Bluetooth-enabled scales. Additional devices are being released, such as multi-parameter vital signs monitors that provide integration with electronic health records or mobile devices.