Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where does Apple stand on Rich Internet Applications?

Ryan Stewart @ asks because Steve Borsch is wondering, who was pleased when Ryan Stewart originally asked the question and later followed up with predications for the Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) space. Confused yet? Here's the gist of all 4 posts.

Apple is great at application experiences, has Quicktime on 50 million (take # of iPods sold and divide by randomly picked divisor) Mac+PCs, and Adobe and Microsoft are already in the game, when is Apple going to drop the hammer and make Quicktime a ubiquitous cross OS runtime for RIAs?

An interesting theory, but that's all it is. If you believe the desktop is dead and that Apple is "skating to where the puck is going, not where it's been", then it seems Apple has to get into the RIA game. Could Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, joined Apple's board for related reasons? That is just as much idle speculation, which is great fun, but doesn't give us any answers. Unless a cross OS runtime is one of he Leopard "Top Secret" features, there is near zero evidence that Apple is going to play in this space at all. If that were true, I for one would be shocked. But let's look at what we know is coming in Leopard:
  • Core Animation. Click on the link, watch the demo, and imagine fluid easy to develop animation being added to all of OS X and applications. Sweet right, but this is going to differentiate OS X from Windows and Linux, with RIAs nascent right now, no way Apple gives away the new crown jewel to knife Leopard in the back...yet
  • Xcode 3.0. No sign of a declarative user interface generation tool, its drag-n-drop and binary nib files for the foreseeable future.
  • Objective-C 2.0. The most complete and serious overhall to the Cocoa runtime and Objective-C language since, well possibly it's inception. Objective-C and more importantly the Cocoa runtime has been cross OS before, so its tempting, but this combination is another key differentiator that makes OS X apps what they are.

Looking at that list of developer technologies, it seems like Apple is doubling down on OS X desktop apps. With OS X inside Apple TV, iPhone, and eventually iPod, where do they have time to put together an RIA platform?

Follow the Money
Why does it make sense for Adobe and Microsoft to develop and give away a cross OS runtime? Because they have tools, lots of them, for you to buy to build stuff for their respective run-times, and they will be competing nearly head-on now, from design through development. How does Apple make money? The same way it always has, selling hardware. Software is a necessity to move hardware, which is why Apple develops an increasing number of applications itself, keep their hardware different from everything else. Xcode is free with every Mac and free to download if you simply register as a developer with Apple, no money involved. Adobe and previously Macromedia have been Mac OS supporters (in all its forms) for a long time. Apple moving to compete directly against Adobe in a total war seems nearly out of the question. The Intel version of Creative Suite 3 is going to move a lot of Macs (witness the cross promotion), and it doesn't hurt that at least some are finding the OS X version a better performer than the same version of the product running on Windows.