Hi, my name is Alex. Today I’m going to tell you a story.
What kind of story, you might ask? Well, it’s a tale for the ages. It’s about an iconic technology company that started as an underdog, and has now morphed into the very thing it swore to destroy…ironically enough. The company? Apple. Or as it was known when it was founded in 1976 by the two Steve's, Apple Computer Company. What started as a humble passion project in a garage has now become the world’s most valuable company. It’s rightly earned, but they’re not without their faults.
Look, I’m the first to admit that Apple is one of the most innovative companies around. They introduced the personal computer, the revolutionary graphical user interface, and above all?
The modern smartphone. But today’s tale is about something else. It’s about a different platform altogether, one that Apple has never really had its roots in, which is what explains to this day why they are so opposed to it.
For context — unlike a company like Google, which was born of the internet and utilizes it to deliver its products, Apple is a hardware company. Although they are increasingly moving into services as of late, they remain a seller of devices to consumers. They’ve found this to be an incredibly lucrative business, of which they have many, I might add.
But let’s go back to the introduction of the touch screen, internet-capable phone, called the iPhone, in 2007.
When Jobs unveiled the device for the first time (like a magician) it was clear that this would be the next big thing.
It was an incredibly sophisticated creation, one that made leaps and bounds in both software and hardware. What was really impressing though, was the fact that Apple had managed to squeeze an internet browser into this thing.
But what many people don’t remember is that when Jobs spoke about the way they imagined delivery of applications on this new device, he didn’t mention the App Store. At the time, it wasn’t in their plans. He spoke of a different distribution method altogether that they had integrated into their newfound device for developers to target.
I’m talking about the WEB.
As you’ll see here in this clip, Jobs clearly envisioned the web as a natural way of delivering software onto the iPhone.
*Apologies for the terrible quality, this was the the only short clip I could find that drives home my point*
So what happened to this idea, anyways? How come it never panned out?
I’d say it was doomed from the start. Developers themselves were clamoring for an official way to deliver their apps to end users. Job’s personal belief was that the web just worked, and that thanks to the powerful HTML5 standard, developing native apps was unnecessary and unneeded.
Public opinion clearly swayed Apple, and by October of that year, Apple reversed their position and declared their intent to create a SDK for developers to develop native apps for the iPhone.
But there’s something not quite right here. As you saw in the video, web apps were touted as being not only a fantastic way to distribute software on the new iPhones, but with the primary benefit of being secure. Browsers have security baked in by default, and the HTML5 canvas effectively sandboxes an application from the core OS of the device. Rightly so, these new “Web 2.0” apps as Jobs called them, were a no brainer.
That’s what I think is so hypocritical, 13 years later, Apple is treating the web as the wild west, saying it is untrusted and a way to deliver malignant applications.
Developers can see through this. It’s become clear that Apple wants to protect it’s mighty App Store at all costs, and the buckets of money that come along with it. The web represents a very clear danger to the App Store model, and this company would rather hamstring the web on it’s devices than see it disrupt it’s precious walled garden.
Did you know that all browsers on iOS HAVE to use WebKit? The reason for this is control.
Apple doesn’t want to leave to chance a company like Google having the latest web standards, and being able to deliver high quality web applications that look and feel identical to a native one. In fact, above all companies I’d say it’s Microsoft that has the most to win by pursuing the web. Google has it’s own App Store, and although they might want a second revenue stream via a web-based platform, it would likely cannabalize their Play Store simultaneously.
So in regards to what platform won, clearly it’s native app stores, and that’s history as we know it. But is it…?
If you’re reading this article, there’s a decent chance you’re an iOS user. You likely have a few apps installed on your phone. But in comparison, how much would you say you spend in the browser, on Safari or Chrome?
My prediction is that the web is increasingly going to become an application distribution platform, as it was originally intended. Not just for simple websites consisting of text or video, but dynamic content like games, and desktop quality software.
Thanks to new standards like WebGL and WebAssembly, I truly see the web making a big comeback.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that there’s a bit on controversy going on between developers and Apple. Particularly one big developer. A game developer, that is.
I’m going to go more into that in another article, but the point is that Apple has created a truly passive revenue stream via the App Store, and has ZERO incentive to jeopardize that by promoting the web as an alternative to their walled garden.
The web doesn’t take a 30% cut. It “just works” on all devices, including non iOS ones. It doesn’t require permission from Apple. The web won’t randomly remove your app for no good reason.
This is why the web will win. This is what Apple doesn’t want to happen, and will do everything in it’s power to prevent.
To be clear, I love Apple as a company, and this article is an open letter to them asking for them to embrace the web. They got where they are today by embracing bleeding edge technologies, and “thinking different”. WebGL and WebAssembly are by far a leap forward in browser innovation, but I’m worried that Apple is going to try to extinguish their use by continuing to intimidate developers, and spread fallacies that their way is the ONLY way.
This company owns a decent market share in mobile phones, and outright develops their own browser. They can make this work if they wanted to.
I’d like to think that if Jobs were still around, he’d see this opportunity and create an alternative, web-based app store for developers. But then again, he probably wouldn’t. Not only would it succeed in eating away at App Store revenue, but it would go against his philosophy of controlling the entire user experience. The only way I could see him going about this would be to have this new App Store be available on one destination…. and that would be
This would give the illusion of choosing openness rather than control, but developers and customers would still be locked into the Apple ecosystem to an extent. Just my two cents!
If what I’ve wrote about today caught your interest, and inspires you to to see a future where web apps can live on Apple devices as first class citizens, I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and join our Discord community, to which I will link both below. At DigiPlay we’re on a mission to bring a new era of software distribution to all devices via the web, and we’re starting with games.
I’m also collaborating with a UK based company called Leaning Technologies, that is on the forefront of leveraging WebAssembly to convert software to a modern web format that runs client side in the HTML5 canvas. If you have old legacy software that is Java/Flash based, or a desktop application you’d like to see running in the browser on both Apple or non iOS devices, you can contact the team over Leaning Tech and they’ll be happy to consult with you and your specific use case.
Leaning Technologies website: https://www.leaningtech.com/
DigiPlay YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClxA2cPeFO-bVCXWy6PRhvQ
Discord community: https://discord.gg/zUSZ3T8