TECH TALK: Apple iPhone: The Platform

MEX wrote about Apple’s Browser and the implications:

According to the information Apple released to developers attending its WWDC event, the iPhone browser will enable applications to run in a sandbox environment, through which they can interface with the integrated applications to access functions like phone calls, email messaging, mapping, contacts and calendar. In practice, this means browser-based applications will be able to offer features like click-to-call, storing event reminders in the local calendar or showing a location on the integrated map.

Developer reaction to this announcement has divided into two camps. On the one hand, some are hugely dissappointed Apple is not providing a public SDK for genuine native application development; on the other, there are those who are delighted Apple has chosen such an open development path and are excited by the possibility of being able to go direct to consumers without the delivery channel issues which continue to impair developers on most mobile platforms.

There is Apple with unprecedented hype around its iPhone launch and a vested interest in building a web-based media platform spanning desktop, living room and mobile. Then there is Nokia, the worlds largest handset manufacturer, which has publicly stated its commitment to becoming an internet company and is planning a 2008 re-organisation which will see its devices, software and services businesses merged into a single business unit. Coming in from the left field, you have Google and Adobe actively seeking to disenfranchise Microsoft from its dominance of the desktop by making the web the software platform of choice. And finally, there is an army of developers constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries of whats possible with web-based applications.

Robert Cringely wrote about Apples broader plans to turn the Safari into a platform:

Safari for Windows is part of a PLATFORM in the same sense that iTunes is part of the iPod platform or vice versa. In this case the platform in question is the iPhone and an as-yet unmentioned partner in that platform is Google.

The iPhone absolutely needs AJAX applications for the phone to be a success on AT&T’s EDGE network. By pushing more functional logic into the browser, the bandwidth consumed per http round-trip is significantly reduced, making the phone apps faster and helping to justify that big price tag. The problem with this is that AJAX apps don’t always work the same (or at all) on every browser. The iPhone has real browser support, which is good, but remember AJAX is based on JavaScript, which in this case is not so good. JavaScript isn’t statically typed and each browser has its own version of JavaScript. Developers are typically forced to hand-code different versions of their AJAX apps for different browsers. With the AJAX economy dictating that browsers with big market share like IE and Firefox get most of the effort, that leaves Safari as a second-class browser and, potentially, a liability for the iPhone.

Whaddayado? Introduce a Windows version of Safari, get a million people to download it in the first week, and scare developers into moving Safari customization higher on their AJAX priority list.

Where Google comes into this story is with the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), an open source compiler that compiles Java source code into optimized browser-specific JavaScript code. GWT makes writing AJAX apps like writing regular apps in the sense that developers can use many of the tools they are used to. And GWT adds the advantage that the GWT compiler handles all the problems of working with specific browsers.

So, get ready for the next revolution in mobile phones and computing!

TECH TALK Apple iPhone+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.