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Dev Chair : Why is Safari on Windows?

So Apple went and released Safari for Windows. It is interesting why Apple did this. Safari may be faster, as the Royal Steveness claimed, and provides a number of nice features that are not in IE7 or Firefox by default (e.g. Forms auto-fill and resizable text fields) but I am not sure it would get much traction in the long term once the novelty factor has worn off.

Steve Jobs also announced that 3rd party developers will get access to the iPhone via web apps. Traditionally, cell phone application development is 'hard'. Hard in the sense that, by nature, cell phone manufactures are not software companies, so either the software development kit (SDK) use lower level languages (C++, etc.), an unsupported developer community (compare with web or desktop development), or antiquated OS (Palm OS 5.x). Whereas web development has a much lower learning curve as well as much bigger pool of developers to pull from.

It is obvious, at least to me, that releasing Safari for Windows is primarily a move to open up the iPhone's development environment to the largest audience possible. If Apple were to actually make a proper SDK for the iPhone, it would mean the SDK would have to support the Cocoa framework on OS X, and either port Cocoa to Windows (possible), or use 3rd party framework for Windows (not likely, given how much Apple likes to be in control). Either way, I doubt this hypothetical SDK would be OS X only, and asking 3rd party developers to purchase a Mac just to develop for the iPhone would be the death keel that many have been predicting.

With Safari running in Windows, iPhone developers can develop new mini-web apps for the iPhone and test them in the same platform, even without laying out the money for an actual iPhone. There is no need for an emulator like the Windows Mobile platform requires, which in theory should allow developers to test out their apps, but in reality there are always limitations of one sort or another. However, I am very curious as to how a web app can 'making a phone call, send an email and displaying a location in Google Maps,' because most of these operations involve interacting with the phone at the OS level. Does this mean the iPhone's Safari exposes a different DOM (Domain Object Model) than the desktop version, with phone-specific functionality?

There are already heated debates on whether using the web as a portal for 3rd party developers to make apps for the iPhone is a good (or even right) idea. But remember, Apple is not just about computers or even Mac OS X anymore. The company now focuses more broadly on electronic products (yes including, but not exclusive to, computers). They even dropped the 'computer' from their name! So I think it is unrealistic for Mac OS X developers to ask for a 'proper' SDK that works on OS X unless Apple makes one that works on both OS X and Windows.

Further, making an SDK for a complex piece of electronic like a cell phone is hard. Yes, Apple has more than six months. Yes, they must be using something in-house. But making a public SDK is hard (just ask Nokia and Sony Ericsson). And unless the SDK works really well out of the box (i.e. Not even minor bugs), we will end up with 3rd party apps that may crashes the phone, a la Treo style. Now, maybe the Palm and Microsoft users can accept that, though I doubt his Royal Steveness would. Certainly I do not; that is the reason I abandoned my Treo 650 for the Nokia E61 after all.

Robert Scoble does not think there will be Flash or Silverlight for the iPhone. I sincerely hope he is wrong. Safari is already supported by Silverlight on Mac OS X. There is no reason why Silverlight cannot work on either Safari on Windows or the iPhone, apart from Apple stopping them. Scott Hanselman has already tried to run Silverlight on the Windows version but has gotten nothing. The Silverlight team is on it so there is still hope. I would love to see whether Google Gear, Adobe's AIR, or Silverlight runs on the iPhone's Safari, and how well.

Despite all these unknowns, having Safari on Windows and the iPhone can only be good for Apple and the users. It raises Apple's awareness in users, whether it is good or bad, and shows them that Firefox's success on the desktop is not a one off. There are alternatives out there and better browsers can be developed by people other than Microsoft. And on the iPhone, Apple raises the bar on what is possible on the web with a cell phone. It shows that we do not have to put up with cut-down version of the web. And it finally frees up the tight constraints that cell phone software developers normally have to work with. Google Map may be cool, but I don't think we've seen anything yet.

Tags: adobe integrated runtime, AdobeIntegratedRuntime, air, firefox, google gear, GoogleGear, ie7, iphone, safari, silverlight