By John Gruber
Journey across Bhutan with Gray Langur. October 16-29, limited availability.
A few follow-up points speculating on The Tablet.
The most-asked question from readers was whether I expect The Tablet to be a tightly-controlled software platform like the iPhone. No one doubts that there will be an App Store for any possible Apple tablet computer — either a new branch of apps specifically designed for the tablet (as I expect), or iPhone OS apps modified to run on larger displays, or both. The question from readers is whether I expect the App Store will be, as on the iPhone, the only way to write native third-party software for the device.
To me this is so obvious, I didn’t consider it worth addressing. I say: yes, of course the App Store will be the only avenue for native third-party tablet apps. (“Native” as opposed to web apps, which by definition are wide open.) Whatever the problems and complaints developers have about the iPhone App Store, Apple clearly sees it as a huge win. They love the experience it provides, they love the control, and I’m sure they enjoy the 30 percent cut of the revenue.
I don’t think it’s out of the question that we could see a replay of the iPhone third-party app story, where the SDK is not available until months after the device debuts. Apple-quality SDKs take a lot of time and planning to produce. As with the iPhone, the product could be good enough to ship to users long before the APIs are solid enough to ship to developers. I don’t think it would be tenable for Apple not to even comment on the SDK prospects this time, though. If you thought there was an uproar with “just write web apps for it” in 2007, it’d be far louder this time.
But here’s another question re: the iTunes Store and The Tablet. Everyone, me included, presumes that a big part of The Tablet is going to involve e-reader features — some sort of thing where you can subscribe to newspapers and magazines and buy books through iTunes.
Let’s say that’s true. My question here is whether it’ll be (a) like the current iTunes Store for music and video, where the content comes only from major corporate media companies, or (b) like the App Store, where anyone can sign up to be a provider. For that matter, why not let indie bands and filmmakers sign up to sell the music and movies through iTunes?
Amazon lets you self-publish e-books through the Kindle store, but they take the fat side of a 65-35 split. If there were an iTunes book store where Apple took only the thin side of a 70-30 split (as they do with the App Store), I’ll bet it wouldn’t take long for Amazon to sweeten their deal.
What about Flash? Lots of people are speculating that The Tablet will run an updated version of iPhone OS. If that’s true, then it almost certainly won’t support Flash. Me? I think The Tablet is going to be running its own Whatever-the-Name-of-the-Tablet-Is OS — but if I had to bet, I’d bet on it not supporting Flash, either.
Why? For most of the same reasons why I don’t expect the iPhone OS ever to support Flash. Flash is the leading cause of application crashes on Mac OS X. It is buggy. It’s inefficient. Presumably The Tablet is going to have a faster CPU and more RAM than an iPhone, but that doesn’t mean Apple is going to treat CPU cycles and memory as any less precious than they do on the iPhone.
As I wrote in February 2008, correctly predicting that Apple would not be adding Flash support to iPhone OS:
As it stands today, Apple is dependent on no one other than itself for the software on the iPhone. Apple controls the source code to the whole thing, from top to bottom. Why cede any of that control to Adobe?
In a footnote, I added:
Google and Yahoo provide Apple with web services for things like Maps, Stocks, and Weather. But that’s data, not software.
To my knowledge, Apple controls the entire source code to the iPhone OS. That’s not to say they wrote the whole thing from scratch. Many low-level OS components are open source. But they have the source. If there’s a bug, they can fix it. If something is slow, they can optimize or re-write it. That is not true for Mac OS X, and Flash is a prime example. The single leading source of application crashes on Mac OS X is a component that Apple can’t fix.
Yes, there’s demand for Flash. Yes, if The Tablet ships without Flash, there will be complaints. But the iPhone’s utter lack of support for Flash hasn’t exactly hurt it. (The same goes for Java, as well, but no one really complains about Java’s absence from the iPhone.)
If The Tablet ships without Flash and it proves to be a mistake, Apple can always add it later. But if The Tablet does ship with Flash and that proves to be a mistake, it’d be untenable for Apple to subsequently remove it.