We posted an article a few weeks ago detailing how a form of Adobe’s flash player, the ubiquitous platform used to stream videos and play games, was coming to the iPhone operating system.  We were excited about this because many electronic health record (EHR) vendors developing web-based (“Saas”) EHRs, including Practice Fusion, Hello Health, and Care Cloud have relied on Adobe Flash technology for portions of the user interface. [Check out our video of Care Cloud’s EHR in action – using flash]

But with the upcoming release of the Apple iPhone Operating System 4.0, the hopes of having some semblance of flash on Apple’s mobile platforms is gone.

Dr. Felasfa Wodajo, a senior writer on this site, explained the how and why on his blog:
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While this may seem like a repeat story, there was actually a little jewel buried in the “terms of service” for developers adopting version 4 of the iPhone OS, as they discovered last week.

Specifically, the new agreement forbids applications developed in languages other than those used by Apple or using different development tools than Apple’s own Xcode from being deployed on the iPhone or iPad.

A post by John Gruber, titled “New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone Compiler” started the melée.

This immediately set off a furor on the internet as it squarely prohibits Adobe from releasing the much discussed Flash to iPhone translator – the software we mentioned a few weeks ago.

Amazingly, Steve Jobs himself responded to a disappointed developer’s email, endorsing Gruber’s speculation as to Apple’s rationale with a terse but pointed response:

We think John Gruber’s post is very insightful and not negative:

-Steve”

Basically, Apple’s position is that developer tools differing from Apple’s will lead to inferior products, and negatively alter their ecosystem and user experience.  Understandably, developers chafe when told what tools they have to use for their craft.

While it is obvious requiring developers to use Apple tools helps keep applications from being made simultaneously available on multiple platforms and helps maintain Apple’s lead, I think this is a short-sighted understanding of the underlying strategy.

In just 12 months developers flocked to the iPhone platform in massive numbers – they can leave just as fast.

Apple has a very strong interest in controlling the manner in which applications are developed. They are very strict that any calls to the operating system (API’s) be made only according to published guidelines and they are miserly on transitioning “private” APIs to public.

In return, what Apple gets is the freedom to radically transform the platform underneath the applications – without the application base suddenly breaking apart. This is how, for example, they can bring in multitasking with only a minor ruffle to most apps or how they can reasonably claim 150k apps that worked on one device, the iPhone, will work on a brand new device, the iPad.

This is a major strategic asset, the effect of its absence can be seen on the windows platform where Microsoft has been shackled by its long tail of application incompatibilities, costing it years to make even evolutionary revisions to it’s operating system (see: Vista)

I am certainly disappointed that EHR vendors will not be quickly transitioning their Flash based user interfaces soon to my iPad. While much of the commentary has been based on catchy depictions of parking lot brawls between companies, it seems to me that each entity is more likely acting on its own long term strategic interests.

At the end of the day, EHR platforms utilizing flash will have to rethink their strategy if they want to have a presence on the iPhone or iPad.  This is unfortunate because the flash based EHRs potential is to provide a seamless transition and functionality from the mobile to desktop experience.

Iltifat Husain contributed to this post