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).