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Java is a computer programming language that runs on many operating systems such as Windows, Mac OS, Linux including hand held devices like mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistances. Java is a programming language which is unique in that it can easily run on different operating systems and hardware without the need for rewriting the program for each different platform. Java was designed to run browser embedded applications called applets, Horstmann, C. 2010,
Mobile phones and smartphones are increasingly becoming more affordable and at the same time they are becoming more technologically advanced. According to the United Nations Telecommunication Agency, mobile phone subscription worldwide is going to increase from 4.6 billion to 5 billion in 2010, (CBSnews, 2010). A staggering 2.1 billion mobile phones and PDAs are Java enabled, (Java, 2010). Mobile phones are being used for much more things than making phone calls and texting messages. Majority of mobile phones nowadays can access the internet through GPRS Wi-Fi, or 3G connections. This makes it possible to run mobile phone based Java applications which take advantage of the internet. Also one can use internet to download those Java applications which once downloaded, they do not require internet for their everyday use. Increasingly health service staff and doctors are using more and more of these handheld devices to access and use medical applications that help them with efficient delivery of patient care. A good number of these applications are written in Java programming language and they take advantage of the ubiquitous nature of Java.
Perhaps some of the simplest types of medical applications that run on mobile phones are the medical reference applications. These simple yet powerful and handy applications help not only the students of Medicine and health sciences but also seasoned and experienced medical professionals. "In the stand-alone mode, the PDA can replace the plethora of references that accumulate in the pockets of white coats. At Columbia University, for example, medical students' PDAs are loaded with more than 30 applications and reference sources whose paper versions would be difficult to fit into a backpack, let alone a pocket". (Cimino and Bakken, 2005) One of such applications that run on Java is the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary. This electronic dictionary can be loaded onto almost any mobile phone or PDA that can run java applications.
Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary is a mobile phone application in which medical professionals and indeed anyone can search for definition of medical terms and conditions. A user inputs the search word or term in the search box within the application. By clicking the search button the application will search for the term and displays the definition and brief explanation on the mobile phone screen.
Because the Dictionary is kept on the mobile phone, one can access it anytime, anywhere as long as one carries the mobile phone on them. This makes such applications very popular with medical personnel. They access and get the information on spot. They do not need to go to the library or back at the office to check the reference for a medical condition or any medical term they are looking for. Cimino and Bakken, 2005 in their article summarise it very well when they pointed out that search of a medical term in 1995 would have required a medical officer to go and look for a free computer and navigate to the right place, but in 2005 the same question can be answered almost instantly through usage of mobile devices.
Immediate access to the information will allow for fast and timely decision making process in management of clients
IT components of the system
The Oxford Medical Dictionary is an example of a java application than runs on mobile phones and other such handheld portable devices like the Personal Digital Assistance (PDA). The java platform, onto which mobile phones run on, is the Java Micro Edition, better known as the Java ME. Java ME is a platform which can run on different mobile phones and it adapt to each mobile phone's unique features like different input methods like pressing buttons or using touchscreen input system. It also allows for development of embedded applications as well as applications that do not require internet connections to function once they are installed. (Oracle, 2010).
Due to differences in mobile device a user can input a search word by either typing on the mobile phone keyboard or by making touch gestures on user interfaces like touch screens.
The Java ME on mobile phones runs a profile called Mobile Information Device Protocol which includes a 'Graphic User Interface and a data storage API and applications written on this profile are called MIDlets. (WikiPedia, 2010). MIDlet applications are designed to work in a resource constrained environment such as a mobile phone. Mobile phones have small screens, limited memory and java apps have to operate in these environments. Most of the higher end mobile phones (smartphones) can multitask. Java ME has to be efficient and effective in these environments and it is. The Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary is one such application which is a MIDlet
Relevance and Suitability of Java over other Programming Language
Java runs on many devices regardless of the platform. Java is unique in that it has a Java Virtual Machine which allows it to run within its own resources without having to require the operating system to process and execute the code,(Horstmann, 2010) This makes Java a resource conserving language and portable so that it can run on different types of mobile devices regardless of the operating system. This is especially critical for small gadgets like mobile phones.
Because of the Java Virtual Machine, Java is portable so that a developer can write only one application which he/she can distribute over many devices. Java compiler compiles Java code into byte code instead of writing onto the operating system unlike what most programming languages do. The code is then executed through the Java Virtual Machine which behaves like an operating system of its own kind, which is somewhat independent of the operating system. As a result a developer needs not write different programs for different operating systems. On the www.getjar.com, I counted a total of 71 different mobile phone manufactures onto which the Java based Oxford Concise Dictionary application is compatible. Out of these 71 manufactures I counted more than 1700 different mobile devices. For example Nokia alone, had more than 200 different mobile devices while Samsung has up to 500 compatibles devices. (Getjar, 2010)
These mobile phones run different operating systems. For example Nokia runs on Symbian platform (Symbian, 2010) while most of HTC and Motorola devices run on Android operating systems.
The same one-size-fit-all Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary application was downloaded 429 254 times across all these devices, as of 17/10/2010.
It is worth noting that the application was downloaded 89254 times more than the paperback version of the application, (Getjar, 2010)
Given that Java and its Java Development Kit (JDK) are free, the developer of this application's costs where only most likely related to labour and time for development of one application which can potentially run on more than 1700 types of mobile phones.
Other programming languages are platform specific and cannot run on some mobile devices. For example if the Oxford Concise Dictionary was developed using the Xcode written for Apple Inc.'s Mac OS, the application will not be able to work on mobile devices that are running on Symbian, Android or Windows operating systems. This would mean that the developer would need to write a separate program for each device thereby significantly increasing the cost of development of the application.
Java is easier to code than other programming languages like C++, (Horstmann, 2010) If one assumes for argument's sake that the above statement results in Java applications being twice as fast to build as C++ applications; that it roughly took half the time to write the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary application than it would otherwise have taken, had the developer used C++.
This means that the labour costs will be half the cost of coding using C++
Mobile phones are readily available in the developed world and their usage in the developing countries is increasing rapidly(Conversation-for-a-Better-World, 2010). It seems that this is a good platform to run applications such as the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary. It means many more medical health personnel and students alike can have quick, easy and reliable access to medical reference on the go. As long as one is carrying their mobile phone with them (which is the case in majority of instances) it means that if they have downloaded and installed the Oxford Concise Dictionary on their mobile phone they can access it any time.
Because technology is changing all the time and when you change your mobile phone you can download again the .jar folder depending on the source from which you got the original application.
There is more potential for the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary to take advantage of Java's stability and security by expanding into more interactive application which can access internet based resources such as further online references and usage of embedded browser applets to deliver more enriched medical information.
The Dictionary application will also take advantage of the increased availability of fast mobile internet coupled with declining cost of same.
Mobile- Health (m-Health) is defined as "the delivery of health-related services via mobile communications devices" and to some extent the future of health lies with mobile technology,(Whittaker, 2010). It is therefore conceivable to predict that this Java reference application can only develop further and further into a more resourceful application that will help in the improvement of health delivery right across the world. This may entail the developer to write a totally new application which takes advantage of all the above or he/she can do this through appropriate software updates of the existing application. The cost of development of new and improved software is relatively cheap given that the developer can develop only one application which should run across all mobile devices that are java enabled, as long as the program is written in Java.
Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary is a medical reference application that runs on more than 1700 types of mobile devices because it takes advantage of the programming language that it is written on. Because it is written on Java language it is portable, easier to write (from the developer's point of view) and secure from an end user point of view. This is a very popular application among medical health professions, students and the public in general. More than 400 000 copies of the application have been downloaded on up to 1700 different types of mobile phones manufactures by up to 71 Original Electronic Manufacturers, (OEM). The fact that it was written on Java which is open source and relatively easier to write code with than C++ means that the software developer had relatively low costs as compared to other platform specific programming language like Xcode, which runs only on the IPhone and other apple mobile devices like iPod and iPad, (Apple, 2010)
The application has huge potentials to grow bigger and become more resourceful than it already is. The application can potentially become more interactive and use the internet which is becoming more ubiquitous and cheaper. Java already supports these features even on the Java Micro Edition which was designed for resource constrained devices like the mobile phones.