The iPhone’s Biggest Innovation… Mobile Apps

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At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference yesterday, Steve Jobs pulled out some interesting information about the upcoming iPhone. Probably the most important and groundbreaking revelation is that software written for this smartphone will have to be written as browser-based applications that run within the Safari browser.

Simply put, this means that the iPhone is ushering in web applications as the standard means for getting applications onto mobile devices.

What Does This Mean?

Safari is a web browser. Much like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and a host of others, it is a means to access information on the Internet (and intranets) through a largely common platform, and with simple to use development tools like (x)HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AJAX, and many others.

By making it so that applications have to use a web browser to be installed on the device, Apple is clearly taking the position that people will want to have some level of connectivity to information that is online.

And, unlike third party applications on other platforms, most of which are not run through a browser, these applications will have the ability to not only run on the iPhone, but any computer that has a suitable web browser.

Good for Developers

For developers, this simplifies a great deal of writing applications for a new platform. The mobile landscape has the Garnet OS, Windows Mobile (at least two versions), Symbian (two versions there too), and various flavors of Linux, not to mention the UMPC devices running other forms of Linux and Windows XP or Vista. Trying to cover all of these with a single application is beyond most developers.

By moving the application away from the operating system and to the browser, platforms such as Adobe’s Apollo, Microsoft’s Silverlight, and Google’s web applications suite can be leveraged for more than just a spot reference.

True, developer will have to host parts of their application on their servers, and Safari will have to offer some type of offline ability (such as Google Gears or Firefox 3’s Offline Mode) so that users do not lose data when they are not connected to a server. But this does make application development a lot more streamlined.

Good for Users

For users this means that you could soon get away from using platform-specific applications and rely more on browser-based ones.

One possibility that Apple could be looking at is taking its products iLife, iPhoto, and others and making them browser-based applications for desktop/laptops. That would mean that you would be able to log in to those apps via the iPhone and utilize all or some abbreviated form of the application for the smaller mobile device.

If written right, it could become easier for applications to share information among themselves, and for users to make connections between different bits of information.

Ahead of Its Time

When the iPhone was introduced, Steve Jobs stated that it was five years ahead of any other phone out there. By pressing the mobile apps via the web browser button, it might not be five years out, but are certainly well out and ahead of other manufacturers and carriers

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