The Web is the Platform, Part 2

So the iPhone is selling like crazy and web 2.0 developers are jumping on the bandwagon with iphone hacking sessions, an IRC channel, a mailing list, and some really neat tricks to squeeze unexpected features out of the Safari web browser. Apple has set up developer tech talks to fuel the movement. There’s also a parallel effort to hack the iPhone so you can install “real” third-party applications. I suspect they’ll succeed, but it won’t matter much: your average user won’t hack their iPhone because Apple will make it too difficult to maintain thanks to their iTunes tether: they can always update the software.

Remember, the web is the platform. So what could Apple really do to fuel this? Add incremental features in JavaScript. First an offline functionality package, like Google Gears, so applications can work offline. Then, an interface to access the user’s stored photos. Over time, a way for web applications to communicate with one another. None of this is specific to the iPhone, but because the iPhone combines the control of a consistent platform with the baseline of web standards, there’s an opportunity to push the envelope, develop new APIs, and eventually roll them back into Mac and Windows Safari.

Then there’s one tweak that could make a huge difference. Let a web application add itself to the dashboard:

<link rel="iphone:application" href="/my-iphone-app.xml" />

in the header that points to the icon and other application parameters, so you can add the application to your dashboard at any time.

Apple will open up an SDK, but I suspect it will be at the HTML+JavaScript layer. Because the web is the platform. And the SDK will run within that platform, not beneath it. And from this highly focused platform, we may well develop some new web APIs that trickle into desktop Safari and eventually other browsers.