iPhone Launch Signals Start Of Browser War II

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Steve Jobs last month described the Windows version of Apple’s iTunes application as “like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell”.  This week at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) he made an audacious bid for the bottled water franchise, launching a version of Apple’s Safari browser to run on Windows – and pointing to it as the window through which external applications for the upcoming iPhone will work (launch ads here)…..Apple has huge ambitions for the combined phone, music player and internet device: in January, Jobs suggested an aim of 1% of the worldwide mobile phone market for next year, which would translate into 10m units.  With iPhones about to go on sale in the US on June 29, the company is rumoured to have 3m ready for purchase immediately.  The presence of Apple-built software on the iPhone raised hopes ahead of the conference that Apple would provide a software development kit (SDK) or set of application programming interfaces (APIs) to let developers write software to run directly on iPhones.  Those hopes were dashed.  “We have been trying to come up with a solution to expand the capabilities of the iPhone so developers can write great apps for it, but keep the iPhone secure,” Jobs told the conference.  His message: write web applications that run on a server (and work via Safari); iPhone users then will be able to access them through the fully fledged Safari browser on the phone.  “Don’t worry about distribution, just put ’em on an internet server.  And guess what, there’s no SDK you need!” he said.  John Gruber, a Mac commentator who writes the popular Daring Fireball site, said that this “went over like a lead balloon”.  He notes on his site: “It’s insulting, because it’s not a way to write iPhone apps, and you can’t bullshit developers.  If web apps … are such a great way to write software for iPhone, then why isn’t Apple using this technique?”  That question gained added importance as within 24 hours security and hacker sites had discovered malicious exploits that could be used against anyone visiting a site with the Windows version of Safari.  Apple has just two weeks to identify whether those flaws exist in the iPhone version and close them before it goes on sale. 

But some think that putting Safari onto Windows will drive Apple’s wedge further into the Microsoft hegemony – the first incursion having been in October 2003, when Apple released a Windows version of iTunes. (Jobs characterised the event as “Hell froze over”.)  Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research, commented this week: “At the moment, iTunes is one of the most downloaded applications.  It will be interesting to see if Apple will leverage that and make Safari a standard part of the iTunes installation at some point.  That act alone would immediately give Safari a big boost.”  It is unlikely that that could significantly dent Internet Explorer’s market share, which stands at about 78%, with Firefox on 15%.  But even a small takeup could be significant.  Safari now has an estimated 5% share of the overall browser market…..Yet Safari for Windows might also bring another influence to bear on the latter stages of the browser wars, won by Microsoft in the 1990s when it crushed Netscape.  Many sites are still developed so that they look best on IE.  But if developers of web applications want to perform transactions on iPhones, they will write to the Safari standard, which already has some use in mobiles – Nokia’s S60 browser uses the Safari rendering and JavaScript engines.  That would force Microsoft to follow external standards for the rendering engine in Explorer, a situation it has not been in for a decade.

Reference : http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,2101814,00.html

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