A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 9 – mobile apps!

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 8 – emerging channels

When I got up this morning I found myself feeling a bit groggy, so decided to check my sleep cycle app on my iPhone to see when I slept most during the night and if I need to adjust when I go to bed. After that I had a quick flick through Twitter for the most recent news and finally Facebook to see what my friends have been doing around the world, all before breakfast!

Then, as I sat on the train to work I played ‘Words with friends’, before knuckling down to work. At lunchtime I listened to some of my favourite tracks through the ‘Spotify’ app, whilst also playing a few rounds of ‘Angry Birds’. Once the afternoon’s work was done, my thoughts turned to dinner time TV, so I checked out the programme schedules using the ‘Sky’ application.

I don’t think I’m alone, even my 60 year old mum has asked for a smartphone so she can use skype to call relations 1000’s of miles away, whilst she’s out of the house, shopping ,)

The digital world has shifted massively over the past few years, and Mobile was always going to the leader, it just took some time.

Welcome to the world of mobile apps!


“…most of us expect to be just as well connected on the move now as we were sat at our desks two years ago!”


Back in 2006, when I (Faisal) launched the mobile site for a leading entertainment brand, we had to go to each service provider and negotiate a deal, which you can imagine took quite a bit of time! Those were the days of ‘on-portal’, where the gateway of content was controlled by each service provider individually – something that really stopped the development of mobile phone content for many years.

The knight in shining armour arrived on the scene in the form of Steve Jobs and the world of mobile changed forever in 2008 (and if you think that’s ground breaking just wait for Apple to launch their new TV product…)

Now, with over 500,000 apps on the Apple store and well over 200,000 apps on the Android Market there seems to be a supply for the massive demand. There are predictions of 6.4 million iPhones to be sold in the UK this year and Android expects to have 4 million handsets out there too, so it’s time to get on board.

Let’s face it – most of us expect to be just as well connected on the move now as we were sat at our desks two years ago!

Even in the healthcare space, which you wouldn’t necessarily associate as the biggest sector for mobile apps, I’ve heard there are currently just over 5,000 apps available. With more and more new ones coming out every day, this number is just going to go up and up, so they’re going to play a pivotal part in the lives of patients, prescribers and the pharma companies within the next few years.


“…they’re going to play a pivotal part in the lives of patients, prescribers and the pharma companies.”


 But before you go diving in to produce a shiny new app, take a moment to think about what’s important about your app and start with your end user in mind. Here are my top tips for designing and building that killer app:

• Make sure you design your app specifically for your market, not just in terms of their needs but also through understanding what platform they are most likely to be on (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, PlayBook etc.

• Use an intuitive interface. Focus on making your app work easily, quickly and elegantly. Do not try to retrofit printed or website material into an app!

• Don’t try to add complexity by adding features that are not important to the end user – it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that more features makes a better app, but the reality is that the best ones are simple and easy to use.

• Develop and design in a small team, as all the worst apps are built by committee and it’s a recipe for disaster.

• Don’t stop when you have launched your app, but instead keep going by asking users for feedback, ensuring you continue to make it easier to use and establish great content.

• Avoid annoying the app stores by keeping to the developer rules – make sure you read up on these before you start (click the links below).

o Android

o Blackberry


o Windows

So start thinking about what app you could build in the healthcare space and how it could deliver value to your audience. The starting point, as always with new products, is to do some research with your potential market, then check out each store to see what apps are already available to meet their needs.


“…if you’re still focussed on just websites rather than apps in 2015, you might find yourself very lonely!”


But even if someone has already filled that space don’t be put off – it’s not about being first but about being the best to meet the end user’s needs (isn’t that right Facebook?).

After all, if you’re still focussed on just websites rather than apps in 2015, you might find yourself very lonely!

As always, we hope that’s been a useful overview and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the details below.

Read part 10 – “social bookmarking” here

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 14 years, providing digital thought leadership to some of the biggest brands globally, also contributing to some of the best-selling books on digital, having been part of the start-up team at Amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been working in Healthcare winning over 15 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal is currently working at Life-Healthcare and can be found Tweeting here @sickonthenet and contacted on LinkedIn here http://www.linkedin.com/in/ahmedfaisal.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

What healthcare apps do you like?