WWDC Keynote: Come on and Safari with Me...

Safari is at the supreme center of Appleis hub right now. Thatis the main message I took from Steve Jobsi WWDC Keynote. Steve didnit actually say those words, but it didnit take much reading between the lines to figure this out.

True, the vast majority of the speech was devoted to Mac OS X Leopard, the next version of Appleis operating system, scheduled for release in October. The audience was primed to at last learn about here-to-fore "secret" features of Leopard, as promised in last yearis WWDC Keynote.

Steve delivered...sort of.

Of the ten Leopard features showcased by Steve, the first three were new, new even to those who have worked with prior beta releases of Leopard: a new Desktop, a new Finder, and an expanded QuickLook. There was some undeniably cool stuff here; I was especially impressed with the "stacks" for organizing items on your desktop (you can learn about stacks and all the other new Leopard features at Appleis Leopard Features page).

Still, there was nothing earth-shaking here (even stacks was something that had long been mentioned on rumor Web sites). Plus, when you consider that the majority of the showcased features were already well known to the developers in the hall, you have to wonder to what "audience" Steve was pitching this talk (the people watching the webcast now available?). By the way, even if you have no interest in listening to the speech, check it out just to see the "ad" in the opening two minutes!

After finishing up with the Leopard coverage, Steve had two surprises, a "one more thing" and a "one last thing." These were (a) the release of a Windows version of Safari (now available as a public beta) and (b) an announcement that third-party developers will (sort of) be able to develop software for iPhone.

From my perspective, a Windows version of Safari is a great idea. If Firefox can command 15% of the browser market, I see no reason why Safari cannot do at least as well. I can even imagine Safari pushing toward 30% (probably at the expense of Firefox). I have no delusions that Safari will overtake Internet Explorer, but a 30% share would be whopping increase from where Safari is now (at about 5%). Even though the software is free, having Apple be a major player in the design of end-user delivery systems for the Web can translate into dollars (why do you think Microsoft worked so hard to obliterate Netscape?).

Regarding iPhone, developers will be able to "create Web 2.0 applications which look and behave just like applications built into iPhone, and which can seamlessly access iPhoneis services." This implies that third-party apps will only be usable when you are connected to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or the EDGE service. Itis a compromise between no access and a completely open system, but it is probably the best that can be hoped for at this point, given concerns (from Apple and AT&T) about how an open system might jeopardize the security, reliability and potential profits of iPhone.

Drifting a bit from the main topic, I wonder exactly what version of Mac OS X is running inside iPhone. Presumably, as with the current version of Apple TV, it will not be Leopard. This, in turn, gets me wondering whether there are significant features of iPhone that were temporarily dropped when it became clear that Leopard would not ship until well after iPhoneis arrival (rather than before, as had been initially scheduled).

If so, we can expect an upgrade to iPhone (and probably Apple TV as well) soon after Leopard ships. This, in turn, gets me wondering how upgrades to iPhone will be handled. Will iPhone users have to pay for a "Leopard" upgrade, as Mac users will have to do? Or will it be free? Will it be a software-only upgrade? Or will a hardware modification be required? In either case, will the iPhone succumb to hackers with the same ease that hackers were able to "open" Apple TV? For that last question, weill find out in about two more weeks.

Returning to those last two "things" in the Keynote, which also at last gets to the opening point of this column, the "things" have two key characteristics in common:

  • Both announcements focused on Safari. This is obviously so for the Windows version of Safari announcement. For iPhone, Steve emphasized that iPhone includes a fully functional version of Safari. This is what is being leveraged to allow third party software development.

  • Both announcements were for cross-platform products. Safari is now for both Mac and PC. iPhone, while running a version of Mac OS X, is almost a platform unto itself and is designed to appeal to all users, whether they own a Mac or a PC.

Is this prominence for Safari a foreshadowing of yet further developments, possibly in the direction of Apple shifting from a Mac computer company to a more Internet-focused, platform agnostic company? Weill see. In any case, itis worth noting that yet another Jobsi Keynote has come and gone without any announcements of new Mac hardware. I mentioned this in my coverage of Macworld Expo last January, and the streak continues at the WWDC.

To be fair, I understand that everything at Apple, other than iPhone development, has practically come to a standstill in recent months. Perhaps it was a bit of an exaggeration, but I have been told of developers working near 24 hour days and even having their families brought to Cupertino, so that they could get a chance to visit. Given this, it is not surprising that other hardware has taken a back seat for the moment. I hope that there will be a shift back to the Mac after iPhone is released. Consistent with this, Steve did give a hint, at the beginning of the Keynote, about new projects with Intel processors currently in the works.

Exactly what that new Mac hardware might be, I have no idea. However, I would welcome a more powerful version of the Mac mini. Conversely, I might instead prefer a scaled down Power Mac, sort of a Mac equivalent of Photoshop Elements (all but the most high-end features at a significantly reduced cost). To go together with these new headless Macs, how about new Cinema Displays, perhaps with built-in yet detachable iSight cameras (to make up for the fact that Apple inexplicably dropped the iSight from its catalog last December, and still has not offered a replacement). Speaking of displays, how about touch-screens on laptops? Finally, I would look forward to any Mac design changes that Jonathan Ive comes up with.

Exactly how all of this will play out may not yet be clear. But, with Steve Jobs in the driveris seat, you can be sure that it will be worth going along for the ride.