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Will Apple’s Safari become a rich, Internet application container?

When Steve Jobs put up the slide at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week that the Safari browser would be available on Windows, there was interest but not much discussion in the blogosphere of why Apple would do it. Some thought it was stupid to try and fight the browser war on Windows.

I see the logic of it and think it’s stealthy, clever and absolutely brilliant. Here’s why…

Apple announced at WWDC that there are currently 500 million active users of iTunes. Every iTunes installation has Quicktime in it. Thinking about the huge install base of Quicktime for some time, I’ve been puzzled why Apple wasn’t taking advantage of Quicktime as a delivery mechanism for cool online-n-offline functionality that is being delivered by Adobe’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight.

But then Steve Jobs shows Safari on Windows and I had one of those forehead-slap moments and a “Doh!” utterance: Safari will be the rich, internet application (RIA) container, not just Quicktime alone!

In his keynote, Jobs emphasized over-n-over again that “the iPhone contains the exact same version of Safari as this one” when describing Safari 3, played up strongly that this same Safari runs on the iPhone and that developers can now create apps for the iPhone by delivering them inside of Safari!

Check out this at the 37Signals blog where Jason says, “That is a bold idea. Very forward thinking. A whole new product with the opportunity for a whole new platform. But instead Apple chooses simple and familiar: HTML and Javascript. Tens of millions of developers already know it. Instant developer uptake and an instant batch of apps that likely already work with the iPhone.” Then look at the first comment which says, “I fully agree. And these are scary times for those who try to push RIA  technology like Flex and Silverlight.” (Note: John Gruber has a much different take on Apple’s positioning of writing Web apps for the iPhone with Safari, “It’s insulting, because it’s not a way to write iPhone apps, and you can’t bullshit developers.

But it gets better.

Here’s another building block in this strategy: At WWDC, Jobs details Dashcode, “Dashcode is a new application for developing Dashboard widgets coming in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Dashcode is everything you need to create great Dashboard widgets.” I’ll bet my bottom dollar that we’ll see Dashcode-like functionality being delivered for we normal humans to create mashups or composite applications.

Next, let’s consider the close alliance with Google and that Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, is on Apple’s board of directors. Besides everything else they are delivering in their “global supercomputer” as Schmidt has described Google’s infrastructure, Google recently announced the beta of Google Gears allowing offline access to previously only online application functionality. Hmmm…why not use Safari to auto-populate a tabbed container of all my Google apps for offline use?

The longer I mull over the alliance between Google and Apple (or, as some have suggested, an eventual merger), the stronger is my belief in the acceleration in delivery of ever greater capabilities leveraging the strengths of these two firms.

Google is a left-brain company that designs like a blind man with no arms. Apple is without peer in its approach to elegance, beauty, industrial design and understanding the interface between people and technology. They’re simply better than any other company on the planet.

The developer community is one group that sees the Safari potential (especially on the iPhone) but what about people like me that have staff adept at publishing and creation applications (and tech savvy) but are not programmers? As I said here six months ago, Apple’s iWeb could easily be a consumer or prosumer-level creation tool to build and deliver this Safari-based rich, internet application functionality since, “iWeb is the closest thing to a desktop publishing-like layout tool (e.g., Quark, InDesign, Pagemaker) that I’ve EVER used to create Web pages!

I can imagine my own company building and delivering content that would run inside a container that includes video, audio, flash, HTML, data from the cloud, and be functional offline with its intrinsic value being best when internet connected…but be created without programmers or a lot of technical heavy lifting. That democratization of the tools to create and deliver is what exploded the desktop publishing and video markets and it was higher level tools that allowed mere mortals to create Web sites and other online assets.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

Comments

  1. I think, long-term, it goes beyond the most obvious. When installing Safari on Windows, it installs a bunch of DLLs, the underlying tech. As iTunes infiltrates the Windows world with Quicktime, Safari will infiltrate with core technologies like core audio, core video, core animation, etc. This will allow all kinds of nifty things on Mac/Windows/iPhone.
    At this point, I think Safari/Windows is just the testbed/debugger for everything else. In the end it will allow apps on the iPhone that completely blow away all other phones because of the underlying tech and will give the best experience of all cross platform. Same approach as iTunes.

  2. To add…
    If you watch the Calamari iPhone ad really close you’ll see core animation at work in the Google map. Apple is pulling in data using the Google maps api but everything else is Apple programming using core technologies. Notice how the location pointers fly in and notice how they flex/squat (don’t know the proper Pixar/animation term for this). Core animation at work. To get that same effect in Safari on Windows/Mac, it has to have the core technologies…at least according to all I’ve read.

  3. “… Apple wasn’t taking advantage of Quicktime as a delivery mechanism for cool online-n-offline functionality that is being delivered by Adobe’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight….”

    Hi Steve, these three projects are quite different in scope, goals, and capabilities.

    The Adobe Integrated Runtime brings web apps to the desktop, and one of the supporting features is an SQLite API to make offline storage easy. (The API will be similar to that used by Google Gears, a browser plugin which includes a local SQLite database.)

    Microsoft’s Silverlight is a proposed browser plugin, and has zero connection with local storage, offline synch, or beyond-the-browser web apps.

    I have not seen any evidence that Apple’s browser will increase the range of web applications which are executed as JavaScript.

    Three different projects, three different scopes. They just hit a similar news cycle, that’s the main commonality.

    jd/adobe

  4. It’s good to have you writing about RIA stuff again, and I thought you’d like that Apple announcement. Safari makes a pretty good platform to build on.

  5. Steve Borsch says:

    JD: Couldn’t agree more that the approaches, scope, capabilities and goals are different, but I’d argue that the target is the same: accessing the capabilities inherent in the cloud in new and fundamentally more profound ways — and jockeying for position on which is the most successful method.

    Which approach is best? Adobe delivering a runtime that straddles the desktop with the cloud? MSFT extending the browser as the container that focuses on the server-side? Or my conjecture about Apple using Safari as a fully self contained container with Quicktime at its core?

    There are a helluva lot smarter and more knowledgeable people than I who are investing tremendous effort and energy in these nextgen RIA’s, but I’m trying to be anticipatory over who might move and what they might do…and this Safari move seems pretty obvious.

    Whose approach wins will be a marketplace decision.

  6. And starting version 3, Safari will support SVG. See what a broad spectrum of goodness that brings on http://svg.startpagina.nl

  7. Corl DeLuna says:

    Hi, This is just what I’ve been looking for: a way to create applications for Windows/Mac/iPhone using Safari as the rendering engine, without having to be a programmer.

    There are many HTML compilers that will turn websites into a Windows applications that uses Internet Explorer as the rendering engine, but they are still Windows only.

    What is the current status of this project? And where can I find out more?

    Thanks

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