By John Gruber
Tara AI — Build better software, faster
WWDC 2007 feels more like “WWDC 2006 2.0” — the same news, now less vague. There are some interesting new details emerging, but I see three main points from today’s keynote:
Back in August at WWDC 2006, when Apple first unveiled Leopard, Steve Jobs made a point of mentioning that some of Leopard’s features would remain secret, lest Microsoft get a head start on copying them.
Apparently, these secret features consist of the new unified window theme and the Cover Flow view in Finder. This is sort of like saying you’re adding a secret new player to your baseball team and then revealing that it’s one of the existing players wearing a new jersey.
(Brief Interpolation Regarding the Dock: The new look for the Dock doesn’t make much sense for any position other than at the bottom. The lighting and “fake 3D sitting on a tray” visual effect look like crap with the Dock on the side. During the keynote, Jobs said that it looks great on the side, but he only put it up on the left for about a second before snapping it back to the bottom.)
(Brief Interpolation Regarding Finder’s Cover Flow View: There were two very funny jokes in the keynote. One was the opening video with John Hodgman, in character as the “I’m a PC” guy, pretending to be Steve Jobs, claiming that he quit and was shutting down the company. The second was Jobs’s Leopard pricing announcement: a basic version for $129, a premium version for — wait for it — $129. The most unintentionally funny moment, though, had to be Jobs’s claim that Cover Flow view in the Finder was “really really useful”. Really cool? Sure. Really useful? Uh-huh.)
Perhaps it’s playing well in the mainstream press, but here at WWDC, Apple’s “you can write great apps for the iPhone: they’re called ‘web sites’” — message went over like a lead balloon.
It’s insulting, because it’s not a way to write iPhone apps, and you can’t bullshit developers. It’s a matter of spin. What Apple should have announced is something like this: “We know that you want to write your own apps for iPhone, and we’d like to see that too. We love the apps you write for the Mac, and we’d love to see what you might be able to come up with for iPhone. We’re thinking about it, and working on ways that we might make that happen, but we don’t have anything to announce today. The good news, though, is that because iPhone has a real Safari web browser, you can write web-based apps that work great on iPhone.”
That wasn’t what the developers here at WWDC wanted to hear, but at least it wouldn’t have been insulting.
Telling developers that web apps are iPhone apps just doesn’t fly. Think about it this way: If web apps — which are only accessible over a network; which don’t get app icons in the iPhone home screen; which don’t have any local data storage — are such a great way to write software for iPhone, then why isn’t Apple using this technique for any of their own iPhone apps?
Or, take Apple’s argument regarding iPhone development and apply it to the Mac. If web apps running in Safari are a great way to write iPhone apps, why aren’t web apps running in Safari a great way to write Mac apps?
If all you have to offer is a shit sandwich, just say it. Don’t tell us how lucky we are and that it’s going to taste delicious.
It’s great that iPhone seems to have a killer Safari web browser. No doubt there are going to be some terrific web apps targeting iPhone. But there are a ton of great ideas for iPhone software that can’t be done as web apps.
There are a bunch of good secondary reasons why Apple developed and released Safari for Windows:
More Safari users means better support for Safari from web developers. The more popular Safari for Windows gets, the less likely it is that a big new web app is going to be released without first-class support for Safari on day one.
Safari for Windows makes it easier for Windows-based web developers to write web sites that are optimized for Safari on iPhone.
The “show them how nice Apple apps are and some of them will decide they should just switch to a Mac” effect.
But the primary reason is simply money. Safari is a free download, but it’s already one of Apple’s most profitable software products.
It’s not widely publicized, but those integrated search bars in web browser toolbars are revenue generators. When you do a Google search from Safari’s toolbar, Google pays Apple a portion of the ad revenue from the resulting page. (Ever notice the “client=safari” string in the URL query?)
The same goes for Mozilla (and, I presume, just about every other mainstream browser.) According to this report by Ryan Naraine, for example, the Mozilla Foundation earned over $50 million in search engine ad revenue in 2005, mostly from Google.
My somewhat-informed understanding is that Apple is currently generating about $2 million per month from Safari’s Google integration. That’s $25 million per year. If Safari for Windows is even moderately successful, it’s easy to see how that might grow to $100 million per year or more.
There’ve been many attempts to finance app development with advertising; what’s interesting about web browser search engine deals is that browser developers earn money — a lot of it — for ads that users were going to see anyway, just by performing the same search without the built-in integration.