Roughly 5,000 Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPads being used within Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) have kept the IT organization at the world's largest medical device company pretty busy developing apps.

And now, four months into the launch of the Medtronic App Store, employees of the Fridley, Minn.-based company have downloaded the 28 apps currently available more than 10,000 times. These applications are primarily being used by the sales and marketing staff, although other divisions within Medtronic are beginning to explore ways to use the iPad to their benefit.

"Medtronic was really on the front edge of the iPad app development," said Jeff Bipes, the company's enterprise mobility IT manager.

The password-protected internal apps include mStar, a productivity tool that sales reps use to order and register products and then integrate them with the company's back-end systems. Another in-house app is mCMS, a content-management application that helps sales staff and managers organize, present, and distribute product information based on what the topic is or who the audience is. (Bipes declined to talk about the most popular apps because they are so specific to a particular group that any other group with a large sales force would skew the download results.)

The company first developed an iPad app in June, after the Medtronic App Store launched in December. Bipes added that he is not aware of any other company that has a dedicated App Store.

"It absolutely provides a competitive edge," Bipes said.

Medtronic certainly appears to be ahead of at least its local competition. A St. Jude Medical (NYSE: STJ) spokeswoman said the Little Canada, Minn.-based company has just a "handful of apps" for employees.

"While we do not have an integrated SJM Apps store at this time, we are certainly evaluating where we want to be in this space," said St. Jude's Amy Jo Meyer in an email. "We are currently focused on deploying mobile solutions that increase sales force productivity, such as inventory replenishment and mobile case scheduling."

Some apps on the Medtronic App Store can be used on the iPhone, iPod, BlackBerry, and even devices that use the Android operating system.

One employee in the company's marketing department is looking forward to using the iPad very soon. (She requested anonymity because the interview was not approved in advance.)

"Standard tools for marketers are PowerPoint slides, and that requires booting up the computer, going through the folders, and finding the right slides," she said. "It's awkward when you have seconds to grab the physician's attention. The iPad is so immediate and effective."

It's not just the speed; it's also the elegance of the presentation that makes the iPad so appealing to users, Bipes said. And given that the device is so popular among doctors, it's smart on Medtronic's part to have a team working on iPad app development. Bipes declined to say how many people work on the app development team but did say that the apps are developed both in-house and by other companies on its behalf. Medtronic plans to buy more iPads for employees aside from the roughly 5,000 that employees already use.

Now the company is also developing apps specifically for physicians. Bipes said one, called the "Carelink Demo," launched on the Medtronic App Store earlier this week.

A carb-counting iPad app called "Carb Counting with Lenny" was released last year on the Apple App Store and has an average rating of three stars.

To Medtronic, developing new, unique apps is equally as important as making new innovative medical devices.

"The quality of the apps and the usability is important, as opposed to just having a piece of hardware and some applications," Bipes said.

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