I know lots of people were bent out of shape when Steve Jobs told the crowd at WWDC that they can develop for the iPhone as long as it is in the browser. The whole idea of providing access to build applications for a platform is typically at the heart of that platform’s success … when I think about Apple’s business models (or product segments) for a second I see things in an interesting way. Apple seems to have a few core areas of focus these days in the hardware space — the Mac, the iPod, the Apple TV, and the iPhone. Each one does some amazing things — and to tell you the truth it occurs to me that only the iPod isn’t running OSX … they’ll fix that. This is from a company who “ignited the personal computing revolution …” Things are shifting.
The Mac has always been a platform where developers have been invited to play. You want to make some software for it? Go ahead … Apple even has a whole developer relations group and associated services. WWDC is a developer’s conference — a developer’s conference for the Mac. With that in mind I can see why the masses were irritated when Jobs told them to build web apps to support the phone. These are real developers who write real code. Not that web apps aren’t real apps, but I think we all get the notion. I am quite honestly excited by the web apps I am seeing being revised to work really well on the iPhone. The Ta-Da List port is one that makes a whole lot of sense in the browser — I am now testing it with my administrative assistant as an ad-hoc calendar tool.
The iPod is a closed platform from what I can tell. There isn’t an open SDK for the iPod that I know of. I could be wrong about this one, but I don’t know of one — at least on the software side. I tell a story about a time I visited Apple right after the iPod was released … I actually told an product manager that if they really wanted to make this product successful they’d release an SDK and let computer science departments use it as a platform. I guess my brilliant idea wasn’t needed. Sure, Nike and a few other select feew companies have been able to release software that extends the functionality of the iPod, but for the most part it is a closed party. The Apple TV is being hacked all the time, but again, from what I can tell it is a closed platform. Yes, the Apple TV runs some sort of OSX, but it isn’t a true Mac.
The iPhone is in the same boat … it runs OSX, but it isn’t a Mac. Apple has created a website that gives us the info we need to create the right kinds of web apps, but that is as far as they’ll go with it. The funny thing is that the fact this thing has a browser opens up nearly unlimited possibilities — at least from my perspective. It has to be hard for real developers though.
The whole paradigm shift happening at Apple is interesting to watch — a computer company that is no longer just a computer company. How will this change developer relations? How will WWDC need to change to integrate the other three product lines? I have no idea, but I doubt Steve and Co. are done in the space that isn’t occupied by the Mac. Imagine being a developer and being tempted by these other products … just dreaming about what could be done. It must be so hard to step outside the Apple developer mindset.