Prediction: Apple Will Own Mass Market Web Applications
Web 2.0 is about the Internet-as-a-platform. The operating system as the focal point of our knowledge and information life is over. The next phase of the Internet will be dominated by those who understand that enabling people is the key. Not just providing packaged solutions, content, advertising and other stuff tossed in our faces hoping that it’s what we will buy…but giving us tools to assemble, create and deliver content and chunks of application functionality that we choose and consume. No one does tools better than Apple which makes me predict that Apple will own mass market application creation and delivery.
Let’s look at a few obvious facts (with some opinion interlaced) so you can follow my logic:
1) NeXT, Steve Jobs’ company bought by Apple which is the foundation of today’s Mac OS X operating system, delivered WebObjects in 1996, the first object oriented Web application server enabling rapid Web application development. Patents like this one — done with WebObjects clearly in mind — points the way to what I’m starting to sense is how Apple could very well “own” the mass market Web application space.
2) Building on the unix foundation from NeXT and delivered as the operating system we know today as Mac OS X, at MacWorld in January of 2006, Apple delivers the next iteration of their iLife suite of products that delivers a completely integrated series of applications for video (iMovie), photos (iPhoto), audio (GarageBand), DVD creation (iDVDÃ¢â‚¬Å¡ and adds Web publishing (iWeb). Critics laud the seamless and elegant integration of these applications and they’re an amazingly powerful catalyst for those deeply involved in the participation culture
3) March 22, 2006: Google releases Google Pages, an amazingly simple (and I think embarrassingly so) Web page creator. They also buy Writely, release Google Calendar, and host of other services like Google Reader, Patents, etc. Hmmm….could Pages be the way Google will enable people to assemble numerous pieces of functionality together to create their own Web applications? Yeah…but only if people want their stuff to look like my Grandpa built it in 1997.
4) August 29, 2006: Dr. Eric Schmidt joins Apple’s Board of Directors. He’s a smart guy and Google’s hot, but if you think at all deeply about the implications of this you’ll understand that Google is the only company in a position to be the engine of the internet-as-a-platform and Schmidt recognizes that the DNA of Google means they design like my Grandpa who, by the way, never used a computer. Schmidt must understand that the totality of what Apple offers, their design sense and their ability to execute is the perfect front-end to the back-end Google delivers so well.
5) Real Simple Syndication (RSS) accelerates in 2006 as the preferred content syndication method and virtually any updating content is rendered “RSS-able”. It’s still tough to cobble together a bunch of RSS feeds and republish them in any meaningful way, but just about all content is fed by RSS and can be consumed easily. Just high end tools that can incorporate RSS feeds within an overall framework are missing
6) All during 2006, Web services proliferate within the Web 2.0, Internet-as-a-platform paradigm and much of the functionality is delivered as “gadgets” or “widgets” or code snippets. These small chunks of functionality enable people to cut code and paste it into their own blog, social site area or Web site. Thousands of these Web gadgets and widgets exist (see Widgetbox, Google Gadgets) but each has their own respective look-n-feel (pretty cheesy too) and it’s NOT simple to build a Web page or a Web application incorporating these and have it look good. NOTE: if you want to get some sense of how these Web services can be mashed together (i.e., mashups), then take a peek at ProgrammableWeb’s directory of mashups here.
So how will Apple own mass market Web application creation and delivery?
What if Apple takes all they know and delivers the perfect Lego-like assembly application for deliver mass market Web applications?
I’ve used text editors to create HTML pages; PageMill; NetObjects Fusion; FrontPage; Dreamweaver; GoLive; content management systems like Vignette, Interwoven, Drupal and Joomla; as well as simple tools like Apple’s iWeb, Rapidweaver and Sandvox. Add to that Typepad, WordPress, vBulletin and too many other applications to count.
But here’s the deal: 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!
iWeb is easy, fast and is kinda, sorta close today to what designers — who are comfortable with page layout and create-n-package-n-publish — already know how to do with pretty sophisticated tools that sport loads of technical underpinnings. When I created the online version of Rise of the Participation Culture, the tool had to come in second to the content, the speed to deliver it and the imperative that it look good. With iWeb, I was able to make it look great and almost page-like in its look with a laughingly small amount of fuss and bother.
The downside is the current version of iWeb is too simplistic. I had to wrestle it like crazy to get it to do what I wanted and its limitations screamed at me constantly. That said, the 2.0 version (expected at MacWorld in less than two weeks) will enable the incorporation of widgets, gadgets and other code to be assembled and delivered within the its framework. Believe me, iWeb is so simple that I invested 30 minutes showing a pretty non-technical person how to use it and they were off and running. Non-technical people are the mass audience and yet there will be lots of room for more sophisticated users to create and deliver more complex Web applications in the new iWeb.
Yeah Borsch…but what about rich, internet applications (RIA’s) which you’ve stated previously is the next, big thing? What’s Apple going to do there?
RIA’s are the next big thing but this post is about Web applications for a mass market. Many people talk about Apple and rich, internet applications (RIA’s) and how Apple’s Quicktime — now ubiquitous on every computer that is running iTunes since it is installed on nearly 70 million computers. (Apple’s quarterly financial results (from 2002 Q1 to 2006 Q4), total iPod sales have reached 67,635,000 units as of October 2006). This RIA talk comes due to Quicktime’s ability to be a robust ‘container’ for multimedia, XML (rss too) and other content that arguably goes far beyond what Flash can deliver. I may be still uninformed by what Quicktime could do and the tools that may come, but I don’t see it as the mass, Web application container in the same way that iWeb will be (since little will have to be changed to grab and incorporate widgets and gadgets within iWeb).
So iWeb is the hot ticket and why I predict that it will be the dominant way to deliver mass Web applications. I believe the easy piece for Apple to deliver is an iWeb that can enable normal humans (like me) to click-n-configure, layout and create decent looking stuff and thus deliver hugely valuable assemblages of Web content. The hard part will be to deliver rich, internet functionality within the Quicktime container itself (as an RIA) unless Apple also delivers iMovie-like tools (or hey…maybe enhance iMovie?) to also be an assembly tool for RIA’s.
There is A LOT which I’m befuddled over and don’t yet know. How will mobile devices access iWeb created content? Will they deliver a separation of presentation and the content itself? What about the possibility both in-browser and ripped-out-of-browser-and-on-the-desktop applications will dominate and iWeb will be a moot point?
If I were Microsoft, I’d be nervous about Apple and Google as a combination…instead of just Google.
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.