Apping at the Annals


Paper is on the way out, of course, replaced by digital information that can be searched, organized, archived, and retrieved according to our individual needs, or electronically brought to our attention through designated alerts. After several false starts, and at least for the moment, the hardware of preference is the tablet - the Apple iPad, Google Android, Amazon Kindle, and thelike. PDAs have been left in the dust, and personal computers are likely next to the dustbin as data storage moves from desktop to cloud. These are rapidly changing times for purveyors of biomedical information, as books and paper journals have devolved in importance, individual subscriptions have withered as more and more people rely on institutional access to content via digital libraries, and the open access concept has challenged traditional publishing models.

To retain its leadership position in translational neuroscience, the Annals must continue to innovate at the cutting edge of these new digital technologies. The entire editorial process of the Annals, from submission to acceptance, has been on-line since 2005, and the full content of the journal is available electronically on the Annals website. On March 26, 2012, the Annals will enter an exciting new era of online publishing with the launch of the Annals App ( Figure).

Figure  .

Screen capture of the new Annals of Neurology app.

An app, short for application, is a term that has been used in the computer industry for decades, but one that exploded in the public lexicon after the launch of the iTunes App Store in 2008. Simply stated, an app is a piece of software, generally purchased for a smartphone or tablet, that helps the user carry out a specific task. The new Annals App is certain to revolutionize the experience of using the Annals.

The Annals App, available on the iPad, will provide unlimited access to full-length articles for all subscribers of the Annals, and as a special introduction will be freely available to everyone for a limited period. The App will be extremely user-friendly, incorporating many features familiar to iPad users: the reader will be able to browse available issues or turn pages with a finger swipe; activate pop-up tables of contents to browse articles easily and tap to view; adjust size of text, figures and tables with a simple “pinch and zoom;” and share content via email, Facebook or Twitter. Increasingly, videos, images, and other extra content will be incorporated into the App, and we will invite users to suggest enhancements (including video interviews for the mediaphiles among us). One of our first projects will be to release, exclusively on the App, a “13th Issue” of the Annals containing the most important, practice-changing clinical information published during the past year. The initial release of Annals App will be available as a “normal” iPad app, but by late spring, it will be converted to the iOS Newsstand; this update will move the home of the App from the desktop where it will originally appear as a standard app icon, to the Newsstand, where it will appear as a regular issue on the “shelf.”

There are literally thousands of apps already in the medical arena. Many, like the Annals App, provide mobile information and education, while other categories focus on decision support, storing medical records, assisting with home health monitoring, and promoting mobile communication between patients and clinicians. As we've noted earlier in these pages, do-it-yourselfers will likely utilize these technologies to take an increasing role in their own health monitoring, care and prevention, as is already the case for genetic information.1 Some apps are freely available, including Medscape, Epocrates, MedPage Today (breaking news), NeuroMind (useful neuroanatomy figures), and Drug Trials. Not surprisingly, several annual “best-of” lists for medical apps have been established, including one awarded by Apple engineers (“Apple Rewind 2011”). Recent honorees included a mobile transmission software for electrocardiograms; educational software providing 3-D rendering of images of the eye in health and various disease states; improved reconstruction software for viewing MRI, CT, PET, spectroscopy, X-ray, ultrasound and other images; and a tool for patients to store their images and share them with their physicians.

One can only imagine what Fred Plum and the founders of the Annals2 would have thought of the app revolution, and the new Annals App. We think that they'd have loved it. Those of us who remember combing through Index Medicus during late night literature searches in dark recesses of library corridors can regale our junior colleagues with tales of how the world used to be, and not so long ago at that. But from the bemused look on their faces, we know that these stories seem as archaic as the tale of the 15th Century scholar Poggio Bracciolini, who searched monasteries for decaying parchments copied by medieval scribes and containing long forgotten literature from the ancients.3

The new Annals App. Very cool. Indeed.