Why Apple Needs the Web 2.0 Revolution

by Devanshu Mehta Mar 09, 2006

Yesterday, when Chris wrote here on Apple Matters about how the web application, Writely, may signal the end for Microsoft, he hit the nail right on the head.

Microsoft has a monopoly in three areas of the home consumer market: operating system, browser and office suite, with market share of each fueling the others. The more people use Windows, the more likely they are to use Internet Explorer. The more people use Microsoft Office, the more likely they are to use Windows. While this makes Microsoft an extremely powerful software company, it also means that making inroads in one area can make inroads in all of them. Microsoft’s monopoly is fuelled by this cycle of dependence, and the conventional wisdom has been that it is only as strong as its weakest link. That if someone could take control of one of these three pieces, Microsoft’s monopoly would start to fall apart.

Maybe the solution never was to break the cycle by building a competing product, but to establish an entire orthogonal system that renders Microsoft, at best, obsolete and at worst, redundant. That orthogonal solution is being built before our very eyes and has the potential to pull the rug from under Microsoft’s feet. That solution is web services.

What are the Web Services you speak of?
Web services, or what some people like to call, Web 2.0 is already here. Most likely, you are already using them. Think GMail or whatever web email service you use. You could easily download your email to Apple’s Mail or Mozilla’s Thunderbird, but there is still a tremendous benefit to having it archived and always available online. As we start to access the Internet from multiple devices and multiple locations, this need has become more acute.

Sun used to have a slogan: The network is the computer. With recent increases in available bandwidth, the financial clout and public mindshare of companies like Google and Yahoo, we are only a few steps away from the opportunity of having everything served to us on the Internet. Applications like Writely allow us to edit and manage documents from anywhere, Voo2do allows us to manage tasks, there are online calendars, collaboration tools, and a whole lot more.

Of course, not everything can move to the Internet. There are privacy and security concerns in addition to the time critical nature of certain applications that could only be served legitimately on a local machine. But for the average computer user the issue boils down to trust, and if the past is any guide, most users have already chosen to place an immense amount of trust in their ISPs and email providers. These services will really take off when a company can provide financial backing while preserving the trust of the people.

That is the prize Google and Yahoo are fighting for.

Where Apple comes in
That sounds great, you say. Everybody moves their non-critical applications and non-sensitive information to the great, big Web 2.0, but since Apple is not a player, what is the big deal?

Well, first of all, Apple is a player, though a poor one. With .Mac, Apple has had its foot in the web services arena for quite a while, but the mismanaged triple-whammy of high subscription cost, Macintosh dependence and Apple application dependence they have effectively taken themselves out of the market. But web services may still be what decides whether Apple floats or sinks.

In a world where most applications you use are used through your browser and a lot of your data you have lives online, if you are a Windows user, do you have any reasons to be one any more? A major reason for people sticking with it is that everything they use works on it already. Well, what if it worked everywhere? Web services would separate the applications from the underlying platform and with everything running on x86, would allow operating systems compete solely on the basis of their capabilities and price. Never again would someone choose Windows because all their stuff works on Windows. All they would need would be a browser.

The challenge for Apple then would be to have its computers be of a comparable price, still appear to be the better, cooler alternative and, most importantly, have all of their software support standard or pluggable interfaces with the wild web. Apple already does have an interface to web services; unfortunately it is only for their own .Mac services and, while it may help sell .Mac accounts, it surely does not help sell Macs. So iCal would synchronize with your web calendar, iPhoto with your online photo editing/management service, iTunes with whatever music repository or streaming service you choose and so on. Then, if the Apple community’s belief in the superior software and hardware design is correct, you sit back and watch the Macintosh sell itself.


  • This could mean that, when the “ordinary” apps such as email, word processing, iphoto, programming,... (most of them already exist) can be ran on the internet, that we only need an internet connection and a low-budget computer since it’s all done on the web…

    Tomovich had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 16
  • while I agree that .Mac in it’s current incarnation is not a success, i disagree that Apple should be trying to seriously compete in the web services space. Apple is a hardware company that makes great media software for their hardware. There are enough companies, far more nimble and innovative than Apple, working to dismantle the Microsoft monopoly. As long as Apple continues to make hardware people want to use that run these services (along with Apple’s own elegant media software suite), they will continue to grow their market share in the computer hardware space.
    However, Apple should be looking at the home entertainment technology space. It’s a very complex space right now that makes true computer/Media center integration impossible for no-techies. It’s the perfect space for Apple to dominate. They did it with computers with the Mac, and with digital audio with ipod/itunes.

    kzar had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 2
  • The solution I am talking about is not for Apple to compete in the web services arena but to partner with Google and/or Yahoo to provide desktop hooks into the web services. A bigger threat than Microsoft, in such a web-serviced future, is actually Linux because of their low cost entry level and ability to run on extremely cheap hardware.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 108
  • Fantastic- a few hours after my article here goes up, Google announces that they purchased Upstartle, the company that makes Writely!

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 108
  • One thing has perpetually bothered me about .Mac in the context of web services - why can I not have my iCal on .Mac so that I can edit it and use it in the same way as CalendarHub?  I just don’t understand why you would not do this if your already have the web-platform.  And please don’t tell me about publishing my calendar - that’s like paying someone to scream your appointments in the Village square - and as for password protection - when I log in to my .Mac (there’s your password protection) now just show me my calendar already and let me get to work.  Does any one have any clue why Apple does this?

    Merchantprince had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Good one Devanshu! You can go onto the long list of things that Apple Matters’ writers have pre-empted.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 09, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Do you think that you really looked at it deeply enough, Devanshu? If everything became web-based, there wouldn’t be computers at all anymore. There wouldn’t be boxes, the computing hardware would cease to exist. Users would simply be left with a flat-screen, keyboard and mouse. Unless Apple took hold of web-based software completely, they couldn’t survive.

    Of course, that’s all presuming everyone is correct about how it will go with Web 2.0. My personal opinion is that we’re still far off from any real web software. Not until we jump up a couple more generations in bandwidth size at least.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Mar 10, 2006 Posts: 299
  • @Luke, I do think I’ve looked at it deeply enough. Some of the reasons we would still have computers are, in no particular order:
    - Some applications are critical and cannot be trusted to a network.
    - Some applications and a lot of data is sensitive, personal and cannot be trusted to a system not in your physical control.
    - There may always be non-networked devices.

    On the subject of real web software, I think we are getting there. Google and Yahoo are betting their futures on it and applications like Writely are already pretty darn good. On the subject of bandwidth, Comcast just announced that they are rolling out 16Mbit cable service to home users. Assuming that latency and jitter can be controlled, running applications over that would be a lot faster than the slow computers of a few years ago.

    Already I ssh into my home machine from work and use applications over it. It is slightly slow and I would not prefer it- but it can be done. The only leap of imagination I require from that point is that the browser will be the point of connection for everyone.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Mar 10, 2006 Posts: 108
  • Some of the reasons we would still have computers are, in no particular order:
    - Some applications are critical and cannot be trusted to a network.
    - Some applications and a lot of data is sensitive, personal and cannot be trusted to a system not in your physical control.
    - There may always be non-networked devices.

    - Gaming
    - Considering difficulties of bandwidth and server-side processing cost… what exactly is the point?

    Benji had this to say on Mar 11, 2006 Posts: 927
  • @Ben Hall,
    Even gaming could move to a remote location. The point would be, in no particular order:
    - Collaboration
    - No need to actually buy/own applications. You can subscribe, pay a one time fee or have it ad-supported.
    - You can have it available from anywhere; not just the device you installed it on. How many times have you missed a document that was on another computer or a program that was installed on another machine?
    - Freedom from upgrades.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Mar 11, 2006 Posts: 108
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