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Dell, others jumping into iPad tablet computer market

Continuing the theme of the last month of Wednesday posts here about the iPad tablet computer and its future in health care would have been so much dead-horse beating if it weren’t for today’s unveiling of the Dell Streak, a tasty little 5-inch tablet running the Google Android operating system. Not yet available in the United States, it will hit Europe June 1.

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According to analysts interviewed by the BBC, computer manufacturers will sell seven figures’ worth of tablet computers this year. All those won’t be iPads either, with Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer showing off a Hewlett-Packard Slate tablet computer last January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

What does it all mean for health care providers? First, none of this changes that fact that docs and nurses love their iPhones and younger iPad siblings, which run the same operating system. But without Flash, the iPhone OS is less functional than the Android OS, which the Streak runs. Health care workers now can choose among several devices to help them administer patient care, and even if they still prefer the iPhone, competition will fuel innovation and drive down pricing for all devices. If Steve Jobs wants to burrow into the health care tech world, he’ll have to do more than just wow the sycophantic audiences who breathlessly witness his product unveilings.

Second, it means that IT leaders, who might not be as sanguine about supporting the iPhone OS on their systems — and don’t tend to bow down at the altar of Apple — also have a choice. Dell, which partnered with the American Medical Association to provide health IT services to physicians, has positioned itself — Streak in hand — to blow the doors off the iPad, possibly before the dust settles on the first stage of the meaningful use rules. Even if the Streak’s alleged followup, a 7-inch version, turns out only to be a rumor.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer for the tablet computer market. There is no doubting tablets’ usefulness in facilitating more and better face-to-face health care over desktops, laptops and even paper charts. The question is, which vendor wants it most?

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