How Apple Will Destroy the Web

After my previous pro-Mac blog post, I bet you weren’t expecting a headline like that. But it’s true. Apple wants to destroy the web, and the iPhone was the opening salvo.Read John Gruber’s post about Apple and Flash. All of it makes sense, but Gruber fails to draw the ultimate logical conclusion. Apple would love to shun the web the same way it shuns Flash. It just can’t pull it off – yet.Apple COO Tim Cook (quoted in Gruber’s blog post) has said

“We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.”

Now, what about that sentence applies to Flash, but not to other web technologies?

For a company so obsessed with platonic ideals of technology, Apple is remarkably pragmatic. Which means, no, they’re not going to pull Safari from OS X (or iPhone) any time soon. Remember that Apple famously plugged the heck out of Microsoft Office for Mac (until they released a better solution, iWork).

Apple has already starting preparing people for a post-web world. The iPhone taught people that web apps are slow and awkward – native apps are where it’s at. I’m not quite enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that Apple made us suffer through the iPhone web app era as a social experiment, but it certainly ended up proving that native apps are far superior to web apps, given the right native environment.

And then there’s that word, “app”. I used to think it was an odd misstep on Apple’s part to use industry lingo in a mainstream product. But no, Apple needed a new word to define the new way people would relate to their technology. “Application” was too literal, bulky, boring. “Program”? Even worse. But “app” is short, succinct, snappy – and, just coincidentally, the first syllable in “Apple”. Apps are the way you do stuff.

Everyday people do not give a crap about the Web. Now, don’t get me wrong – they care about the information found there, but Google famously demonstrated that the average Joe doesn’t know the difference between a browser, a web site, and a search engine. People want to tell their computer what they want, and then get an answer. They don’t care one bit if that answer is streamed via HTTP and rendered in a web browser via HTML. They just want an answer. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt if they get that answer fast and in a fun, engaging way. You know, like, via a 99 cent app on your phone.

The iPhone trained people to use apps instead of web pages on their phones. The tablet Apple will release tomorrow will prove that apps’ superiority over web pages holds true for larger devices. It’s only logical that people eventually will use specialized apps in lieu of web pages on their full-sized home computers. Or will they? The answer is: it’s a red herring.

With powerful, portable devices like the iPhone, people will stop sitting down to get information. I’m not predicting the complete death of the home computer, but 20 years from now people will only sit down at a keyboard to do extended work. There is no long-term future for weather web sites, stock quote web sites, or perhaps even ecommerce sites. It just makes no logical sense. Remember when people had to sit, literally tethered to their desk to make a phone call? Seems pretty silly now, no?

Microsoft tried to render the web irrelevant by making it indistinguishable from the operating system (ActiveX!). Apple didn’t fall into that trap. Instead, they’re attacking the web by creating a superior distribution model for content – the same way they beat the unstoppable music-piracy juggernaut with the iTunes store.

Apple’s disdain for the web should be obvious:

  • Aside from their own web site and “me.com”, Apple has never launched a web-based service
  • The me.com launch was famously botched, indicating that Apple is not exactly awash with web engineering expertise
  • iWeb. Look, people knocked FrontPage back in the day, but not since FrontPage was there a web authoring app that “gets” the web less than iWeb.
  • Apple does not participate in “Web 2.0″. It has no Facebook Page (I was shocked to find that iTunes does), no Twitter account, no blog. Deep down, Apple doesn’t believe in Social Networking. They believe in enabling real human interaction. Remember Steve Jobs’ response to the Zune’s song sharing ability?

Microsoft tried to destroy the web because they were worried about losing sales. Apple is trying to destroy the web because they genuinely believe they can create a better experience, and they’re probably right. And if you think the web is too big a target for Apple to disrupt completely, think again – it only took Apple 6 years to effectively take over the century-plus-old music industry. The Internet has only been a commercial medium for 15 years.

If you’re a web developer wondering what this means for you, I think the takeaway is this: HTML and CSS are likely to be with us for many more years to come, because they are powerful technologies for easily organizing and rendering content. But where that HTML and CSS end up is going to be a much different place than where it is now. Keep your eyes open and your skills sharp.

Why I Switched, then Switched, then Switched

Back when Apple made a big deal about switching from Windows to OS X, I did. And I really enjoyed living the Mac life. But over time, due to a number of reasons, I drifted back to using a PC.

Firstly, I was stuck using a PC at work (ain’t that always the case). Secondly, (I thought) I wanted a netbook and a gaming PC. I figured maybe I should just standardize on one platform, and with the release of Windows 7, my fate was sealed.

Windows 7 didn’t suck.

I built a custom gaming PC and bought a netbook. Eventually, I realized that I don’t even really play PC games, and that yes, netbooks are kind of sucky and pointless.

But that’s not why I switched back to Mac.

I switched back to Mac because there’s been a crazy role-reversal between Apple and Microsoft in the past few years. I switched away from Windows because there were no good applications for it.

Remember when the number one argument against Macs was that all the good apps were on PC? Oh, how times have changed.

As the web (and web apps) picked up steam, something funny happened. The Windows app developers (mostly rooted in the corporate world) switched to building web apps, but the Apple app developers – mostly enthusiastic, passionate individuals or small teams – kept on building beautiful desktop applications (and passionate fan bases).

Again, Windows 7 does not suck. It is an excellent operating system. The problem was this: once my fascination with its improved taskbar, and Aero Snap, and all that good stuff wore off – once I got around to actually wanting to do stuff on my computer, I realized something. There was not ONE APPLICATION for Windows that I LOVED. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft Office is good software. But I don’t love it. At this point, I think about Word or Excel the same way I think about “calc.exe”. It’s practically part of the operating system. It’s just something you have to have, and have to use.

The other apps I used a lot – Dreamweaver, Photoshop – were cross-platform, so even if they were awesome on Windows (they’re not – they’re bloated and buggy), they were no pro-Windows argument. The only Windows-only app I’ve come close to “loving” is SnagIt (I’ve always considered TechSmith the most Mac-like Windows development company), but man cannot live on screen capture apps alone. I mostly relied on web apps – using programs I was unenthused about, when I had to use them.

Windows 7 was a beautiful container for running a web browser. What was the point?

Since their respective inceptions, Microsoft has been all about business, Apple all about hobbyists. I’m making a gross generalization here, but Windows-based developers generally care about making money, and Mac developers care about making beautiful stuff. There’s little financial incentive to tying yourself exclusively to the Mac platform. Corporate niche Windows applications and subscription web apps are where it’s at if you just want to make money. If you develop for Mac, it’s because you want to make beautiful software, for people who appreciate beautiful software.

I recently hunted for a good Windows note-taking application, like the Mac’s Yojimbo. After seeing recommendations for OneNote and Evernote (two big, bloated apps) at every turn, I finally came across a small, simple, just-powerful-enough one called “GoldenSection Notes“, buried on the 5th page of some shareware directory. It really is good – try the demo. Then do a Google search for it. Every link on Google is from some cheeseball shareware aggregator site. There’s not one blog post about it (at least as far as I was willing to dig in the Google results). A forum for its users? Nope. A Twitter account from the developer? Keep dreaming. It’s like it fell onto the Internet from another planet. A whole lot of Windows software is like this. I found a really good Windows video converter called Aimersoft Media Converter. You’d never guess that it was good based on their web site, because it’s just one giant SEO trap. Popular Mac apps come with a developer blog, a forum, and one or more Twitter accounts from the developer. Windows software usually just comes with a feeling that you’re on your own.

You can buy decent Windows apps, but you’d be hard pressed to buy Windows apps that are beautiful and come with a passionate, accessible community to back them up. And that’s why I’m moving back to the Mac.

Welcome back, Coda.

Welcome back, Omnigraffle

Welcome back, Things

Welcome back, MarsEdit

Welcome back, Quicksilver

Welcome back, Mac.