June 11th, 2007

Apple iPhone Follows Facebook In Creating A Web 2.0 Platform For Third-Party Applications


Never underestimate Steve Jobs. After all of the hand-wringing over Apple’s iPhone being a closed platform, today Apple announced that the iPhone will indeed be open to third-party applications — ingeniously, through integration with Apple’s Safari web browser, which has just been released for Windows (which itself is a huge smack against Microsoft, which has really been taking it on the chin lately, e.g. Google Gears).

Apple today announced that its revolutionary iPhone? will run applications created with Web 2.0 Internet standards when it begins shipping on June 29. Developers can create Web 2.0 applications which look and behave just like the applications built into iPhone, and which can seamlessly access iPhone?s services, including making a phone call, sending an email and displaying a location in Google Maps. Third-party applications created using Web 2.0 standards can extend iPhone?s capabilities without compromising its reliability or security.

Apple is following what might now be called the Facebook school of application platforms, i.e. dramatically increase the value of your platform by opening it up to third-party developers, who will see it as a boon for growing their own user base and thus increase the value of your platform in the process.

Of course, it’s probably more accurate to call this the Microsoft strategy — Microsoft crushed the OS competition, including Apple, by running away with all the developers. But that was back when the PC was the only platform for applications — now there’s the web browser, web services like Facebook, and other hardware, e.g. mobile devices.

What’s most notable about the iPhone platform is that’s based on “Web 2.0″ standards:

Web 2.0-based applications are being embraced by leading developers because they are far more interactive and responsive than traditional web applications, and can be easily distributed over the Internet and painlessly updated by simply changing the code on the developers? own servers. The modern web standards also provide secure data access and transactions, like those used with Amazon.com or online banking.

While Apple’s Safari-based platform and Facebook Platform are “Web 2.0,” there are far from open — Apple and Facebook are still calling all the shots, and developers are still at their mercy. But one thing, crucially, has changed from the days of desktop applications — Web 2.0 application providers get to update their code instantaneously, and…they get to keep user data on their servers. And we all know by now that data is the Intel inside.

What’s truly ingenious about Apple’s strategy is building the iPhone platform on the Safari browser. On the surface, you’l see complaints like this:

This gives application developers a path to the iPhone, but it falls short of the software development kit that some were hoping for that would allow developers to create native applications for the iPhone.

That may be true, but the browser-based platform gives Apple a backdoor onto the Windows desktop, the same way that iTunes did. iPhone users who become accustomed to using applications in Safari may well migrate to the Safari browser on their desktop, even if they aren’t Mac users. You can see how Jobs is calculating this:

iPod + iTunes + iPhones + Safari = Mac convert

Regardless of how well that math adds up, hat’s clear is that platform companies — Apple, Facebook, and the already super-dominant Google — will dominate the Web 2.0 era (which is still just getting underway).

  • Remember- Apple is in the business of 'cool and intuitive.' If they do cool and intuitive well, people will pay a premium.

    Then, Apple will come out with the next generation, there will be the premium and the cheaper versions. They may not snag huge market share in the first months, but I bet they roll it out in a way that makes a huge impact.

    My mom wants to buy my dad an iPhone for father's day (too bad it's not released yet). My mom is completely untech-savvy. She knows nothing about cellular phones, and doesn't own one herself. But she knows about the iPhone.

    My wife is more tech-savvy, and doesn't care that much about cell phones either, although she and I both have one each. And she noticed the iPhone, when she doesn't usually pay attention to model numbers and brand-names, like more geeky people do (like myself.)

    People who know the ins and outs of the market can argue all they want- Apple is making an impact on the folks who don't care about nit-picky details like model brands. They want cool. They want functional. And, now it works with Safari.

    I predict it's going to be a big hit.

  • Scott, I agree that they're going to make some serious inroads into the cellphone market.

    I've seen there sales estimates - 10 million in the first year seems high (I wonder what % are earmarked for US sales).

    And I'm no an Apple hater - in fact I recently switched to a Mac Pro desktop after a lifetime of PC use.

    The landscape for iPods five years ago was much different from the current landscape of cellphones and PDAs. Back in the day - there were only smaller MP3 players (think 512mb - 1 gb) or huge bulky hard drive style devices (like the 5gb Arcos). There was no established brand loyalty at the time. There are plenty of people out there who are die hard blackberry fans.

    And the price point remains extremely high - even if they do introduce a phone in the two-three hundred dollar range. Service will still cost upwards of $100/month, making it prohibitive for much of the population.

  • Rick Fisher

    I agree that releasing Safari is a smart move, for a frustrated Windows user - seeing one more sexy app on thier desktop could really sway them - especially with an iPhone sitting in thier pocket.

    I'm very happy that Apple are opening up the iPhone - it had to happen really. One app I would LOVE to see is The Filter. I have this app on my Series 60 and can see it working perfectly on the iPhone

  • Jay

    Argh... this is not ingenious. It's a workaround. Apple is not releasing any APIs so you have no access to storage, address book or dial functionality. You must also be connected to the internet to make your web applications work.

    Apple is essentially saying that if you want to make an application for the iPhone, set up a web page because we're not letting you do anything else.

    They might as well tell you to write an application using SMS. Hey look!!! It fully integrates with Twitter!!!! Amazing!!!!

  • Doug,

    iPhone won't be limited to Cingular forever, and your other two items could be said of the iPod and digital music players way back when. If anyone can scale hardware in a crowded category, it's Apple.

    I just bought a Blackberry because I wanted to be on Verizon and I wanted push email. If it wasn't for those two factors, I probably would have gotten an iPhone, despite the price. Whatever barrier there are now won't last long.

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