The BMJ is on the iPad

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d283 (Published 19 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d283
  1. David Payne, editor1,
  2. Fiona Godlee, editor in chief2
  1. 1bmj.com
  2. 2BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. dpayne{at}bmj.com

Tell us what you think

The BMJ is now available as an iPad application (app) for Apple’s tablet computer—the first one of its kind to be launched by a general medical journal. The app combines the content chosen for the weekly BMJ print journal plus live feeds of news, blogs, podcasts, and videos on bmj.com.

Our aim in developing the app was to deliver a new version of the BMJ to the growing number of iPad users worldwide, and to respond to the findings of our online survey of visitors to bmj.com last year. Many international website subscribers who responded to the survey were interested in the print journal, despite not receiving it. We hope the app gives people a sense of what the print BMJ looks like each week without lapsing into what usability expert Jakob Neilson described as an “overly strong print metaphor” when he reviewed the iPad after its US launch in April 2010.1

Each issue of the app sits behind an image of that week’s print cover with clickable cover lines and a colour coded table of contents, including editor’s choice, letters, obituaries, views and reviews, and research papers in the same shortened “pico” format that we use for the print journal.

As with other apps, the content displays in both portrait and landscape formats. You can tap images, tables, and graphics so that they expand to be viewed in more detail. Each article includes clickable links to authors’ email addresses, plus related blogs, podcasts, and relevant articles from the archive. There is also a response link to bmj.com, which enables you to comment on articles.

The app has distinct channels—one for journal articles and others for user generated blogs, podcasts, and videos. As in the print and online BMJ, the articles comprise research, education, and scholarly comment such as editorials and analysis, followed by the journalistic content—features, reviews, and opinion. Journal articles swipe from left to right. Content on the news, blogs, video, and podcast channels scrolls up and down. Because these are live feeds, they update each time the iPad connects to the internet.

We decided to give news its own channel because stories are posted twice a day online and only a selection appears in print. The iPad app offers the opportunity to present news as it is published and to include all stories, not just the selection chosen each week for print.

The iPad is an ideal device to display our growing library of educational and research based video content. Individual films are embedded in relevant articles and also presented in a separate channel (as they are on bmj.com). We took a similar approach with the BMJ weekly podcast, which is also available via iTunes and is now downloaded more than 15 000 times each month.

We are now looking to adapt the BMJ for other mobile devices—those that use Google’s Android operating system and Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, plus Sony’s eReader and Blackberry. But we are confident that the iPad was the most appropriate device on which to launch the BMJ’s first app, with its long battery life and touch interface. The device’s large colour screen is well suited to the complex layouts of some of our journal articles. Its portability as a tablet computer means it is actively being talked about as a point of care tool for busy doctors in both primary and secondary care settings. Scholarly kitchen blogger Kent Anderson referred to it recently as “a real workhorse in hospital information systems.”2

In a BMJ Careers article on the iPad and medicine, Ian Robertson and Edward Miles directly mention the device’s capacity for storing textbooks and journals.3 However, they point out that the backlit display can cause eye strain if used for long periods. Because of this we have used the print versions of most articles. The full length versions can still be accessed on bmj.com.

The iPad does have its detractors. In his review for the New York Times, David Pogue said he had never seen a product polarise opinion so much.4 Disliked by “techies,” he described its fans as “regular people” and the device itself as a “good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young.”

Perhaps the figures speak for themselves. More than two million iPads were sold in April and May 2010,2 and Apple’s 2010 fourth quarter results, ending September 25, recorded 4.19 million iPad sales.5

The volume of iPad sales is reflected in visitor statistics to BMJ Group products. Increasing numbers of readers are accessing our content from mobile devices. In October 2010, of the 40 812 visits from mobile devices, 7803 were from the iPad (figure). We now have dedicated iPhone apps for BMJ Careers and Student BMJ. Thousands of people have downloaded our two decision support iPhone apps, Best Practice and Differential Diagnosis.


Visits to the BMJ by various types of mobile device

After an editorial in May this year welcoming the iPad’s imminent arrival,6 many readers volunteered to road test the new BMJ app. We will be seeking their feedback in the coming weeks, and we are already thinking about version 2. Please give us your views and suggestions for enhancements, either in rapid responses or on the Apple store. We would like to hear from you.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d283


  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the Unified Competing Interest form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.