The smartest move in iPhone prehistory

The top two iPhone-related announcements from WWDC, the top six reasons they're important, the top three ways the iPhone may change the Web, and the top three reasons why none of it may matter.

Tim Moynihan
3 min read

The iPhone could be big. You heard it here first. James Martin/CNET News.com

Today, during his keynote at WWDC 2007, Steve Jobs may have done the smartest thing in iPhone prehistory.

With two announcements that didn't receive any of the hype normally associated with the iPhone, Apple may have actually made good on its promise that the iPhone will be revolutionary. Much more revolutionary than pretty looks, a touch screen, a wide-screen iPod, or even visual voice mail.

So revolutionary, in fact, that it may have an impact on much more than just the mobile-phone industry. And they seemed so relatively unimportant at first glimpse...

The two smartest announcements in iPhone prehistory

1. A version of Apple's Safari browser has been released for Windows. (Download here.)

2. The "third-party iPhone apps" Steve Jobs alluded to weeks ago would be Web-based applications, not apps that run natively on the iPhone.

The second of these announcements sounded like a cop-out at first. After all, when Jobs mentioned opening the iPhone up to third-party applications, everyone got the impression he meant they'd actually run on the iPhone, not on a browser.

But here's why it looks so smart after a closer look.

Hedged bets Smart moves

1. Opening Safari to Windows is a great move for the development community. Windows developers can now test Web applications for Safari on Windows machines.

2. One of the iPhone's drawing points is that it runs a full browser (albeit one that won't support Java and possibly won't support Flash), and the iPhone hype machine promises an unparalleled browsing experience for a mobile device.

3. Because Safari is the application platform for the iPhone, Safari on Windows creates a much bigger pool of developers for the iPhone than releasing an SDK would. Making any site "iPhone-compatible" will be the hip thing to do, and developing for a touch screen device could unleash some serious creativity. (Think of the possibilities for porn! Glorious, touch-interactive porn!)

4. Non-native apps also means that iPhone users won't need to download packages or install software. This could be a significant factor for a device that only has 4GB or 8GB of storage (and a lot of songs and videos competing for that space).

5. Web-based apps running on Safari creates no additional security issues for the iPhone. Your iPhone will be as secure as Safari is.

6. Because the apps are Web-based, they are cross-platform by nature. But if you run them on the iPhone, you get a little something extra: a touch screen interface. During the keynote, VP of iPhone software Scott Forstall mentioned that Web applications will "know" they're running on an iPhone and act accordingly. Java's "write once, run anywhere" mantra may be perfected by the iPhone (ironically, a device that purportedly won't run Java).

So maybe, just maybe, the iPhone will be revolutionary on quite a few fronts. At the very least, it may reprioritize some things.

The iPhone's impact on the Web

1. Immediately, Web developers have an exciting new platform to create applications for, and the iPhone's touch screen is a fun interface to think about when creating new applications.

2. This may kick-start Web 2.0's evolution into Web 3.0: sites and services redefined, redesigned, and refined for a handheld platform and fully mobile user base.

3. As competing devices follow suit and shift to a more immersive mobile browsing experience, Web-based software and Web 2.0 sites may have great days ahead of them.

Even for someone who despises the iPhone hype, these announcements are pretty exciting. Apple seems to have mastered the art of declaring itself innovative, and the combined power of the development community and the mass appeal of the iPhone could lead to true innovation. It's good for the iPhone, good for Web 2.0, good for mobile devices, good for developers, and good for users.

But...is it still smart to buy an iPhone?

Alas, some of the iPhone's perceived shortcomings may also become magnified by a cottage industry of third-party Web applications.

1. With such a reliance on Web-based apps, EDGE seems like a terrible decision over 3G networks.

2. Wi-Fi is still in the iPhone's bag of tricks, but let's hope the battery life can take the added pressure.

3. The touch screen-only UI could become a burden for keyboard-intensive apps.

What do you think? Huge news, cop-out 2.0, or somewhere in between? Let us know in the TalkBack section below.