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Novartis’ CibaVision subsidiary has released a new iPhone app, called the Academy for Eyecare Excellence. I have downloaded it and am going to write this review “live” – that is, give my impressions as I walk through it. I believe that intuitive user interface is the key to good software design, so let’s see how this app strikes a newbie from a user experience point of view.

First up is a required registration page, asking for first name, last name, email, zip code, country, and profession. Below that there are a couple of notification options (for updates), and a link to the Privacy Policy.

Right off, I’d prefer to have a brief explanation why this amount of info is being requested. It’s intrusive compared to most iPhone apps, and may be a barrier to entry. Now, there may very well be excellent reasons to ask for it – but if so, please share them up front in capsule form (you do get a better idea by reading the detailed Privacy Policy).

When I first use any app, I want to feel a sense of intuitive ease with the interface, AND I’d like a little “Wow” factor. The home page interface is a bit busy, but the Intro video of two guys talking about what the app can do for you is very impressive – smooth, hi-res, and motivating. Thumbs up on that idea!

From the initial screen, the user can jump to Courses, Video, and Articles. Let’s try Courses…OK, two courses present (on contact lenses, of course), several future courses listed. The course is structured in topical nuggets, each of which is a tasty combination of video and animation with nice, clear narration. I cannot comment on how helpful these little courses will be for eyecare professionals, but I can say, as someone with a lot of background in eLearning design, that this is pretty good stuff from a production standpoint. Thumbs up here.

The Video section is just promo videos for the digital Ciba educational properties, including this app. This could eventually be a potential repository for helpful little practical hints, or clinical updates, if Ciba heads in that direction – right now, it seems like a placeholder. Thumb at rest in horizontal position.

Articles doesn’t go anywhere. I assume there will be resources populating this at some point. Thumb hiding.

On the bottom navigation bar is a button for Academy, which opens up (essentially) a miniaturized website explaining CibaVision’s educational approach and offerings. The iPhone form factor is not ideal for information structured this way – small type and standard web navigation design. Thumbs down – not on the idea of explaining more about the offerings, but on the information design. There is also a button fro Prof. Affairs which currently goes nowhere.

-> It occurs to me that perhaps the two non-functional buttons are because I registered as an “Other”, not as one of the designated titles for an eyecare professional. So, I just left the app and registered under a different name, as an Opthamologist. And, sure enough, now those nav buttons are occupied! The Prof. Affairs is just a repeat of the intro video – a placeholder, nothing to see here – but the Articles now show a couple of article summaries with a link to the .pdf. Sparse here at launch, but the potential is there. Plus, you are invited to pop open (to full screen) an ad for one of the CibaVision contact lens products.

There is also a Back and a More button on the bottom – Back does what you’d expect, and More gives links to CibaVision site; Acknowledgements; a Contact link (which opens up your e-mail); and Tell a Friend (also e-mail driven). Nothing special.

OK, let’s sum up:

Putting on my branding hat: The visual design, naming, and branding are mediocre. The graphical elements used, and page layouts, are only so-so.

Putting on my application user experience hat: It has potential. Right now, I question the value, especially for the amount of personal information I’ve “given up” at registration. And the experience is “choppy” and stitched together – cool video here, clunky web interface there, etc. The app doesn’t feel smooth and well-integrated (yet).

Putting on my eLearning/professional education hat: Very nice. With lots of potential to evolve.

It is a one-way application – nothing truly interactive or social about it. I think a lot of first-gen pharma apps will fall into that camp. I’d have to say that this one is not particularly compelling, unless an eyecare professional really needs those courses in the palm of their hands. Then, there’s clear value.

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BlackBagIconPhysicians (and anyone else, actually) now have a new mobile black-bag to carry around. At it’s pretty slick.

Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has now publicly launched BlackBag for the iPhone, available as a free download in the iTunes app store. From the announcement on the J&J blog:

    The BLACKBAG™ iPhone Application … gives physicians access to the latest medical information at their fingertips. Within the first two months of launching the app, BLACKBAG was downloaded by approximately 24,000 users. The idea behind the BLACKBAG app was to provide physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other health care professionals with easy access to resources and tools to help them stay informed; an electronic version of a doctor’s “black bag.” The app contains unbranded content across a number of medical areas and specialties.

One concern, right off, was that BlackBag might give J&J a black eye if OMJ was serving as a conduit/curator of information. Would potentially unfavorable published clinical content be “filtered”? This worry was allayed by a J&J source close to the development of the application, who indicated that information would not be filtered, and the OMJ’s commitment to a very open approach to information delivery would be even more evident in coming days.

The user experience of BlackBag is dead simple. I had no trouble learning the app during a brief dog walk in the neighborhood! There are three simple choices: Settings (very straightforward), News Feeds (pick your areas of interest), and Media (lists of available videos to launch). You simply choose the areas of clinical interest for your news feed and media, and articles of potential interest populate it. I’m not convinced that “Media” is the best label for the video/multimedia assets, since the news articles are also “media” – a small quibble.

The videos I sampled came from Reuters Health/The Doctor’s Channel, and from a production/viewing point of view, were very good quality.

Screen shot for the J&J blog:

bb_3screen

Here is a more extensive review of BlackBag, from AppShouter.

I’m going to give the crew at J&J/OMJ Pharmaceuticals very high marks for this, and here’s why: I have strongly advocated for some time that pharma companies can best serve the marketplace by being value-adding partners. One way to do this is to find ways to provide up-to-date, curated, relevant information and put it in the hands of targeted audiences. As long as this app remains an unbiased conduit of useful information, it will both meet needs and elevate the reputation of J&J in the marketplace. This is how to used networked communications/social media tools. Other pharmas: take note!

P.S. to J&J/OMJ Pharmaceuticals: The app font/design says BlackBag. The app label on the iPhone itself says BLACKBAG. The press release refers to it as BLACKBAG. Best to settle on one consistent approach to branding it…

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