I watched Paul Kedrosky on CNBC yesterday shrug off Apple’s release of Safari for Windows and was quite surprised by his reaction. This is a really big deal for a couple reasons. Yes, as Kedrosky says, the browser war is an old topic and not as sexy as the iPhone story or new Leopard features. But Apple is incredibly shrewd in this move to introduce its Safari web browser to the rest of the computing public.
While most developers were hoping Apple would open up the iPhone to third-party apps, it appears that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Instead, Apple has focused on using the Safari web browser as the development platform of choice.
This makes sense for a few reasons. First, it’s safer for Apple in the short term to not have to worry about dealing with any potential issues third-party application may introduce. This type of restriction is not new. In a way, T-Mobile and Danger have been doing this for years with their Sidekick. Developers wishing to distribute their apps to the Sidekick have to get them approved by Danger and added to the master catalog that can only be accessed inside the device. The rationale is likely the same as Apple’s – we think we have a slick user experience, so let’s make sure others don’t mess it up.
Safari ported to Windows is a brilliant move to expand the base of potential developers to web applications that will work on the iPhone. As of yesterday all web developers, regardless of platform, have the ability to build applications that can work on the iPhone. This removes one additional barrier for the development of a nice ecosystem of apps available for Apple’s phone.
Finally, if web-based applications are the future as many predict, what better way for Apple to play this shift than to make a bigger claim to the browser market? Even without the iPhone aspect of this announcement, I still think the company’s move to increase Safari’s market share beyond 5% makes perfect sense.
Unfortunately, just because a web app works on Safari, doesn’t mean it’ll look good or be easy to use on the iPhone. You still have the usual screen size problem that haunts mobile devices even now.
It’s one thing to zoom in and out of the NY Times. It’s quite another to do that on apps that don’t take into account the much smaller screen of the iPhone. Try this: resize your browser window to 1/4 your screen, then try using your bank account, blogging site, etc like that all day.
Now go the other way. iPhone apps written with custom plugins to access the dialer etc, certainly won’t work on Windows or Mac devices.
@Kev – Agreed. I didn’t mean to imply in my post that it would be easy or equivalent. I’ve also already read that Flash will not be supported on launch. I still think giving Windows users the ability to run Safari now allows those developers the ability to test web apps potentially written for the iPhone.
Will screen size, network speed, etc. still be an issue? Definitely. But this at least opens the door to a much larger pool of development talent.