Moustache

Safari for Windows - Why?

SafariEveryone is all abuzz today about the announcement of Apple's web browser Safari moving to Windows. This seems to be an odd move to me. Why would Apple spend all the time and money bringing a product to a market that has all but been tied up by Microsoft for nearly a decade? Ignore the Steve Jobs hyperbole of "we're bringing all of Safari's innovations over to Windows because it is the best browser in the world" (I am a Mac user and can't stand it) and his claims that it is "twice as fast as IE, 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2" (from what those brave enough to try it out are saying, it isn't even close to IE or Firefox speeds), and you are left wondering; what exactly are the reasons for Apple to do this?

The only real credible claim from Steve Jobs' keynote was "We would love for Safari's market share to grow substantially." While Apple really has nothing directly to gain from Safari increasing it's market share from 5%, Mac users sure do. Currently most web developers make sure their sites work in Internet Explorer, then probably Firefox, and then maybe if they have some extra time Safari. The underlying engine that renders pages in Safari is just different enough from IE and Firefox that when you start building rich, AJAX-y web applications it is easy for developers to quickly abandon support for the browser altogether. More often that not the investment required to build for Safari's 5% is just not worth it. So Apple spends all this money acquiring a new customer, then the customer gets home and wonders why the internet doesn't work on their computer. By doing anything they can to increase Safari's market share, Apple hopes that maybe they can get Safari up high enough where web developers will have to think a little harder before dropping support for the default Mac browser.

Now that is a pretty weak reason to release a product, and I don't think Steve Jobs is stupid enough to launch something that offers absolutely no clear advantage over a firmly-entrenched competitor in IE that has 80% market share. Here is my blue-sky plan for Safari on Windows. During the keynote, Jobs mentioned that Safari is the development API for the iPhone. Developers, through Safari, will be able to tie into the core iPhone services like the Address Book, GPS, the camera and iTunes. What if this is a new feature for Safari on Windows and the Mac too? What if a developer builds a really great app for the iPhone that takes advantage of all the hardware and software hooks, and all they have to do to make it web-enabled is to open it in Safari? It's like Adobe AIR or Google Gears on steroids. If a user's (yet to be invented) location-sensitive, video sharing, social networking iPhone app also worked seamlessly with their desktop computer, they would have a very compelling reason to use Safari on Windows.

This is all just speculation of course. In reality, Safari for Windows will probably just be the same boring browser it is on the Mac today. People will unwittingly install it with iTunes and then wonder why the internet looks different after it covertly makes itself the default web browser on their computer.

UPDATE: So it turns out the iPhone will not have GPS, which is more than kind of lame. And after really listening to the keynote it is not so clear to me that iPhone developers can dig into the iPhone's hardware and software at all, which completely negates my sole reason to think the Safari for Windows move has any actual benefits for users.

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