I get a lot of questions from medical students and residents interested in purchasing a tablet. These tablet devices are essentially thin, large-screen computers that weigh about 1 pound with great Internet connectivity and batteries that last for more than 7 hours. These are amazingly useful for physicians for looking up medication dosages, showing patients illustrations of procedures, viewing anatomy while in the operating room, sorting through e-mail, and — best of all — reading and annotating PDF files of the latest medical journals without lugging around pounds and pounds of paper.
There are two operating system choices that you — as a physician or a medical student — can run on your next tablet:
- an iOS device: the Apple iPad is the only tablet that runs iOS
- an Android device: a large variety are available, manufactured by Asus, Acer, Motorola, Sony, and other computer and phone companies
There are two other tablet systems out there running Palm webOS and Blackberry OS, but there are hardly any medical software available for those two platforms. You shouldn’t bother considering these two operating systems. Windows 7 also runs on tablets as well, but while the system runs any Windows application you throw at it, the OS was not made strictly for mobile use and suffers from poor battery life and a cumbersome user interface.
You should consider the following:
- How much walking do you do around the hospital or clinic? If you are out and about almost all the time, you want to have a tablet with the longest battery life. The iPad has about 12 hours or so, from what I’ve heard. My Android-based ASUS EEE Pad Transformer tablet, without its keyboard dock, lasts 7 hours. With its keyboard dock, it lasts about 14 hours.
- What specialty are you in? If you’re in a highly visual specialty, such as dermatology, radiology, or surgery, you should get an Apple iPad. In general, there is far more medical software available for iOS. You can find a list of some great medical software for iOS; this site also has a list of the best Android medical software as well. If you’re doing psychiatry, generally it doesn’t matter which type of tablet you go with because psychiatry, as a specialty, seems to lack specialized medical apps for us. General medical app references like Epocrates, Medscape, and Skyscape are available for both iOS and Android platforms anyways.
- How much time can you afford to spend on maintaining your tablet? If you’re not technically-savvy at all, the Apple iPad is the best choice because they make everything easy for you. The downside, however, is that Apple simplifies things to the point where a lot of simple computing features — like copying and moving files — are impossible.
- How much flexibility do you want to have on your tablet? Apple puts the most restrictions on your tablet: you’re forced to use Apple’s App Store, and you have no choice with other application stores. Apple also has no “filesystem,” meaning that you can’t share or organize files among different applications the same way that you do on a typical computer. Android tablets are much more flexible and customizable. For example, your Android home screen can show your favorite apps, plus the weather, your most recent e-mails, and photos of your loved ones. Mine shows my medical apps, e-mail, calendar agenda, and how many calories I’ve eaten and burned.
- Are you a “power user?” If so, Android is the best choice because the operating system offers true multitasking, meaning that you can have multiple applications working in the background, unlike Apple’s version of multitasking which lets you switch between apps, but prevents most of them from running in the background. Android OS also has notifications that show incoming e-mails, text messages, the current song, and more all from the status bar in any application. Apple has implemented something similar just this year, but it hasn’t been around long enough for many iOS apps to support this feature.
- Do you love accessories, or have lots of money to spend on them? There are far more accessories available for the iPad than Android devices because there’s a larger market for iPad accessories, with more iPad users.
- Do you want a smaller screen size? The iPad doesn’t fit in many white coats, but white coats with larger pockets are available. There’s far more variety with Android tablets, from 7” screens to around 11” screens diagonally.
- Do you like video games? The iPad has far more video games available for their platform than Android. iOS, in general, seems to have higher-quality lower-cost applications simply because there are more iPad users and more iOS developers. One common argument people seem to have against Android OS is that there aren’t as many apps, but that’s not the case: there are almost as many apps for Android as there are for iPad.
- Do you own an Android phone? If so, get an Android tablet. That way, you can use almost all of the same applications you already bought for your phone on your new Android tablet.
- Do you own an iOS device, like an iPod Touch or an iPhone? If so, get an iPad tablet. That way, you can use almost all of the same applications you already bought for your phone on your new iPad.
- How much money do you have? Some of the latest Android tablets are up to $100 cheaper than a comparable iPad.
I myself bought an ASUS EEE Pad Transformer and went with the Android platform because:
- I already owned an Android phone, which means I can use the same apps I already purchased. Re-purchasing the same software for the iPad would’ve cost me at least $100.
- I’m a power user. Having a customizable homescreen helps me get work done faster:
- I wanted to have the keyboard dock, which bumps up the total battery life to ~16 hours and allows me to quickly type out notes and e-mails. Nearly all iPad keyboards use Bluetooth instead of a direct connection, which sometimes entails connectivity problems.
Some other articles you can read to help you decide whether you want to use Android or iOS: