Rewrite the history books...the world is flat

March 21, 2012
Dr. John Flucke
Dr. John Flucke

Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and keeps an active blog filled with thoughts and tidbits on the world of technology at blog.denticle.com.

Issue 5

Did you know Christopher Columbus didn’t really prove the Earth was round? It was actually the ancient Greeks in about 6 B.C. This is such a common misconception, that in 1945 the “Myth of the Flat Earth” was listed in a pamphlet produced by the Historical Association of Britain as being the No. 2 most common error in history.

Did you know Christopher Columbus didn’t really prove the Earth was round? It was actually the ancient Greeks in about 6 B.C. This is such a common misconception, that in 1945 the “Myth of the Flat Earth” was listed in a pamphlet produced by the Historical Association of Britain as being the No. 2 most common error in history.

So what does that have to do with technology? Well in case you haven’t noticed, the world has flattened considerably in the last year. So much, in fact, that it’s now predicted the world will flatten even more in the coming years.

Now before you start to dig a survival bunker, let me clarify some things. I’m talking about portable electronics and the onslaught of flat panel devices now flowing into the market.

Laying the groundwork

It all started a few years ago when Microsoft noticed there were some portable situations that just didn’t suit the idea or form factor of a laptop. What they needed, they decided, was something more like a clipboard, and out of that the Tablet PC was born in 2002.

The hand off The tablet form factor is a natural for providing patients with immersive education experiences. Once the iPad hit the scene, Henry Schein’s Guru was quick to adapt to the interactive benefits of the new tablet.

The Tablet PC was a decidedly Microsoft product that was made by several manufacturers. It was basically a Windows PC with a touchscreen that required a stylus for input. The screen couldn’t work with a fingertip, but a specialized pen worked as the mouse as well as allowed the user to draw or write on the screen.

The operating system was Microsoft Windows Tablet PC Edition and basically provided the Windows experience that every user was used to, but converted the hardware into an easy to carry tablet or clipboard type form factor. They were computers in every sense of the word, with hard drives that were sensitive to things like being dropped. They were truly like laptops with no keyboards.

The devices sported a very reliable handwriting recognition software that allowed the user to write on the screen and the Tablet PC would convert this handwriting to text. It worked amazingly well…even on my less than stellar handwriting. They also were Wi-Fi compatible, which allowed them to be used anywhere a Wi-Fi signal was available (but Wi-Fi was rare back then). This meant you weren’t tied to a desk and could truly do mobile computing.

The tech press was very excited about these devices and they sold pretty well at first. Then folks began to realize the stylus, while effective, wasn’t as effective as the keyboard. Sales began to fall and many of the mainstream manufacturers either scaled back production or stopped making them altogether. I purchased one and used it as a check-in machine in my office for a few years.

Today it has more or less been relegated to a note taking device I tote along to continuing education courses. However, you can still see Tablet PC’s in a lot of hospital settings. Most of these are manufactured by Motion Computing and are linked into hospital databases.

A workable flat plan

Of course, that’s just the appetizer. You have Steve Jobs to thank for the entree.

On Jan. 27, 2010 the jeans and black mock T wearing mogul held up the first iPad for the world to see. By that time, Apple had sold just a few less than a bazillion iPhones and what the smart people at Apple noticed was the use of apps sold thru the Apple App Store. Most of those apps had little to do with the actual phone and more to do with communication and consuming media. They decided a device with an iPhone interface and a much larger screen could be a huge seller as a consumer of media.

The announcement hinged on some developments that had taken place since the announcement of the Tablet PC. One was the proliferation of mobile computing with cell phones and laptops. Consumers were used to getting their information on something other than a desktop computer. The other was the mass adoption and availability of Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data networks. Suddenly the world was poised to consume media on a device that was really built to consume media and not create it.

Also, the availability of the aforementioned apps made a huge difference. iPad owners could quickly build a library of programs that helped them do specifically what they wanted to do.

The device offered apps that loaded almost instantaneously and the touchscreen was responsive and easy to use. While the pundits were not sure how well the device would be accepted, when it went on sale in April, Apple could not keep them in stock.

In the dental world, embracing the iPad began almost immediately. Lexi-Comp, the makers of books and computerized drug info databases, had an iPhone app that they immediately formatted and created for the iPad. Suddenly the little tablet held an entire series of books including: Dental Lexi Drugs, Lexi Interact, Oral Hard Tissue Diseases, Oral Soft Tissue Diseases, and 13 others. Carrying the iPad throughout the office meant you were actually carrying 17 books of dental info. The Lexi app is easy to use and constantly updated over the device’s Wi-Fi connection. Especially handy are the hard and soft tissue disease references with photos that can be viewed and shown to patients. Amazing!

Henry Schein also was quick to embrace the platform, offering the Guru patient education software on the iPad, which allowed doctors to draw on the animations with their fingertips. Schein also made Dentrix practice management software available on the iPad. Dentrix Mobile is a remote access tool that allows dentists to view their appointment schedules and patient information from their mobile devices.

The iPad also has been embraced by consultants such as Michael Couch from CaringQuest who recently told me, “As an educator and coach, I have found the iPad and iOS apps to be a powerful presentation and teaching tool. When we find ‘Best in Class’ solutions, we make movies to tell the story and facilitate implementation of the solution. We then present the story and learning modules with the iPad. The iPad provides an intimate, simple interface that allows the technology to become a transparent learning tool. We are just scratching the surface of the use of these next generation devices in dentistry.” Examples of these videos can be found at Best in Class Solutions.

Flat expansion

Now on to the dessert. As the iPhone grew in popularity, Google saw a tremendous opportunity. The brain trust in Mountain View, Calif., decided there was ample room in the smartphone market for 2 players…and they weren’t about to let Apple have it all. They released their own operating system for smartphones called Android. It has become almost unbelievably popular and is now the No. 1 smartphone operating system, being used on approximately 31 percent of all smart phones in the United States. Apple’s iPhone operating system (iOS) is about 25 percent.

Android set up its own app store, the Android Marketplace, and soon developers were writing apps for both Apple and Android, although Apple is still the market leader in apps.

With the popularity of the iPad and the popularity of Android, you could bet those 2 worlds were doomed to collide. And they did, as manufacturers began rolling out Android slate type devices last fall and this winter.

These Android slates will definitely give the iPad a run for its money (and let’s face it, it’s ALL about the money). I’m currently using the Motorola Xoom slate and have been mightily impressed. While I’ve been an iPad user for more than a year, I was eager to try the Xoom because I’m an Android phone user and I love the interface. The Xoom uses a special version of the Android OS built for tablets called Honeycomb and the interface is smooth and visually beautiful. The device has arguably better hardware and memory than the iPad so it’s really a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as to which is better. Personally, I still can’t decide.

There aren’t many mainstream dental applications yet available for the Android user, but they’ll be coming soon. I must give credit to Lexi-Comp though because their entire dental suite I mentioned earlier is already available for Android and works like a dream on both my phone and the Honeycomb-running Xoom.

The plane future

For a final bit of info, tablet devices now have a strong foothold in the technology market. I’m going to the office with one everyday. However, I’m also still using my reliable MacBook Pro laptop as well. That’s because slates/tablets are great for consuming media, but not so great at creating it. I wrote about 1/4 of this article on my iPad and about 3/4 on my MacBook Pro. Care to guess why?

So the secret to all of this is to realize the technology and its limitations. Slates/tablets are amazing devices. I read books on them, play games, check e-mail, do patient education, check drug and reference info, but I don’t sit down and do chart notes with them. I don’t write long articles on them. Not because it can’t be done, but because there are easier ways.

So, if you have been on the fence, I’m telling you it’s OK to make your move. These devices are the real deal and really are here to stay. Apple or Android? That’s going to take some research on your part. In my opinion there isn’t a clear cut winner. However, I can tell you emphatically The World is Flat. If you don’t believe me, ask Steve Jobs. Trust me…he knows.

About the author

John Flucke, DDS, is Technology Editor for Dental Products Report and dentistry’s “Technology Evangelist.” He practices in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and has followed his passions for both dentistry and technology to become a respected speaker and clinical tester of the latest in dental technology, with a focus on things that provide better care and better experiences for patients. He blogs about technology and life at blog.denticle.com