A few months ago I questioned whether Medical Apps would find their way into the App store and eventually the iPhone. Well, it is beginning to happen. And it is not just the simple apps that are porting themselves over. Epocrates was the first major player to port its application first to an online only version for iPhone 1 and now a native app version for iPhone 3G. Now comes word that iSilo is quietly waiting in line to have its native app ported over to the iPhone (amazing that they have to wait in line with all of the other developers).
Simple apps such as calculators (Medcalc for Palm) are being emulated ad nauseum. One product, MEDIQUATIONS is going for $ 4.99 and appears to be the front runner for Medcalc emulation. However, there are a number of other programs with similar ideas going for free. A rudimentary program is iPhone Medical Calculator . This particular program continues to update quite regularly and I would assume that it will only take a short while before it begins competing with or surpassing the equations stored in the modest "Medical-Student-is-hungry-please-give-5-bucks-for-my-program" version. By the way, I am not joking about that last part, Mediquations was written by a 3rd year Medical student.
MacRumors, as I have just learned today, is actually run by a Physician who just recently retired from his 2 year Nephrology Practice, so he has a handle on Medical software. Pop over to the link (just click on the title of this piece) and see Dr. Arnold Kim's entire blog entry. What is interesting is the following post from one of the readers, responding to Dr. Kim's article:
"i know several doctors who are just loving the new medical apps for the iPhone and can finally ditch their palms. opening this us to the market for apps was genius and is helping the iPhone break into areas traditionally dominated by other handhelds for too long."
- Taken from Macrumors.com.
Unless Palm does something really quickly, my prediction of a huge move to the Apple platform could become a reality very soon.
But Wait !!!!
NOT SO FAST!!!! There are a few negative things that I have seen already in the App store. For example, there is a program called Eponyms, selling for $1.99. I mean really? Is that a medical necessity? This is the kind of program that should be free and cost nothing at all. After all, there is a website from which the database is probably founded, that could be ported directly into the device. Not really worthy, but that's my opinion.
But while we're on "my opinion," maybe it's time to take a look at another little ditty, mentioned in the same article, "OB Patient Tracker." Golly, I have an OB patient tracker that I created with Smartlistogo. And it does a lot more than what this one does on the iPhone, yet the iPhone version is selling for $14.99 !!! I applaud the free market system. However, I think that what we are seeing is the Gold Rush Movement. The first in show line coming out rather quickly and making a lot of money along the way. More power to them, but I am going to wait a little longer before giving up on Palm.
However, I predict that the real "killer apps" for the iPhone Medical community are being written right now and will come out before June of next year. I also predict that many of them are being written in Garages, Living Rooms and Study Halls. The home of NSBASIC and Code Warrior, has been ransacked by the new Cottage Industry - The iPhone. And to think, all Palm had to do was release an SDK and give programmers full access to programming tools instead of releasing an SDK with very little ability for "non-C-programmers" to do anything but buy an expensive suite or rely on something like castlebasic. What Apple did was release an SDK - albeit a restricted one - but gave the programmers the tools to create the software. Much of it is rudimentary, as in the early days of Palm, but that will soon change as programmers become more sophisticated. (I would jump at a chance to buy something from Pen Computer Solutions for example, a leader in relational database software. Having programmed two major databases with this software, it is a true leader and compatible with many enterprise solutions).
It is beginning to look as though Apple will become a major player in the Medical Software market. They are already leading in the pricing department (many apps are well under $15). And that is where it all starts. They are letting the market decide upon the prices and it will only be a matter of time before the rudimentary players will give way to the dynamic suites that are on the Palm devices now.
I am going out on a limb here, but I am also predicting that if a developer comes out with a real relational database application that is both simple to use and graphically beautiful; lending itself to creation on the fly without a desktop and as easy to use as SMARTLISTOGO with MS OFFICE or OPEN OFFICE compatibility, then there will be a deluge of Physicians leaving Palm.
Devices are becoming convergence vehicles, bringing together several file formats that people are demanding to be opened in a handheld device. For example Apple opens PDF's without a flaw, while Palm and Microsoft continue to stumble on this format, even though it is obvious that it is now the default for most documents. However Palm excels, where Apple's handheld remains dormant when it comes to opening, editing and creating Excel and Word documents (Dataviz Documents to Go and Mobisystems' Office). Physicians are looking for complete and total convergence now and the devices will need to answer to this need. So far, the iPhone is promising a lot and starting to deliver. Although it is a closed system, it appears to be catching on with many and is promising even more to come. Palm....while still the leader in the space, is showing signs of fatigue. The promises of a new device and a new operating system have been echoing for at least 3 years. With no reasonable competitor in sight, we put up with it. But this is not happening anymore. With the promise of Google's Android and the already successful launch of the iPhone, Palm will need to work harder to not only stay on top, but maybe to compete.
I am holding some confidence that they will do something very special next year.
* Picture of iPhone vs. Treo taken from Palminfocenter.com. (Link)
Update October, 2008:
I wrote the above article before I purchased an iPhone 3G and a few things have changed since that time. First, ePocrates has just announced an update to its iPhone program. They will now have on-device storage of pill pictures, which will speed up the lookups. Additionally, they plan to eventually add the insurance coverage app that is so useful on the desktop and Palm versions.
I have it on good authority that the first native relational database to make it to the iPhone will come from Handbase developer, DDH Software. You may have read about me ragging on this company for nickel and diming on the Palm Platform for plugins, when they are standard on Documents-to-go's Smartlistogo, but DDH is a very formidable and respectable company and I really welcome their entry into this space. It is sorely needed. Now I will have to go and buy their software, since I plan to use the iPhone for many things. Check the website and blog, I will finally put up my smartlistogo apps for free download.
Another note is that Eponym's founder woke up and is now giving away the software. Additionally, the Gold Rush appears to be ending in the App store.