Funny what gets people’s attention. Today’s topic du jour is social media—every pharma company sports an ad hoc committee, umpteen hyperbolic stories in the press, heck even the FDA has taken notice!

Meanwhile, in another, quieter sector of the digital universe, there’s a big story developing: the next generation of mobile phones is reshaping the virtual landscape.

Let’s look at the numbers (thank you Morgan Stanley). Since product launch in 2007, Apple has sold more than 40 million iPhones and another 20 million iPod Touch devices. That makes the iPhone platform the fastest growing technology in history. Faster than Nintendo’s Wii, faster than Sony’s Playstation, faster than anything. Ever.

Here’s another way to look at it. Since adding the iPhone, AT&T’s network traffic has increased by a factor of 50—not because subscribers are making more phone calls, but because they are using these devices in fundamentally different ways: the iPhone is not a phone with some enhancements; it’s a computer that happens to make calls.

But while paying appropriate homage to Steve Jobs, it’s not all about the iPhone. With Google introducing its Android operating system, Palm premiering the Pre and even Microsoft rebooting its mobile software, the future is all about the smartphone.

So here’s a technology that offers incredible opportunities to provide real value to patients, HCPs and caregivers; begs few of the regulatory issues of social media; and c) actually ties neatly to marketing goals. Yet everybody wants a Twitter strategy (Text “sigh” to 654321).

Well, not everybody. There are actually a number of innovative, relevant healthcare iPhone apps produced by pharma companies. A sampling:

  • J&J’s “CareConnector,” a tool to help caregivers track meds and doctor’s appointments. Simple, relevant and coherent for J&J’s brand.
  • Sanofi’s “Go Meals,” a calorie counter for patients with diabetes, the app gives carb counts for menu items at 200 chain restaurants. Real utility that doesn’t require fair balance!
  • UCB’s “Wellness Widget,” allows Crohn’s patients to track their symptoms wherever they are, and create a report to share with their doctors. (Disclosure: my company created this one.)

Three examples of pharmas focused on where the future of healthcare is headed. Hope somebody tweets about it.

Bill Drummy is chairman and CEO, Heartbeat Digital