Over at This is My Next, Joshua Topolsky has a thought-provoking piece that says that Apple is going to discontinue its only major browser-based Web apps–the ones that are part of MobileMe–next year after iCloud is fully up and running. There’s a lively debate going on via Twitter between Topolsky and some folks who say that he has it all wrong: the MobileMe Web apps will survive the iCloud transition.
Even if the MobileMe Web apps don’t get the ax, the gist of Topolsky’s piece remains relevant. Apple filled last week’s WWDC keynote to the gills with news, but it was all about operating systems, apps, and an ambitious piece of Internet plumbing called iCloud. No surprise there: there’s never been much evidence that Apple is terribly interested in creating Web apps. But it loves to create traditional software that runs on hardware devices it builds.
You can see that in the MobileMe Web apps. They’re beautifully polished and easy to use. But rather than building services that feel natively Webby–as Google Docs, for instance, does–Apple invested its energy in creating ones that feel like excellent software that happens to run in the browser. The emphasis reflects the company’s particular interests. And iCloud, which involves real iPhone/iPad/Macs that store data on the Web, is an even better reflection of what makes Apple, well, Apple. Why try to fake Apple-quality software in the browser when you can write real software for a real Apple platform?
I used to think that Apple had some interest in building apps for hardware platforms it didn’t control; I even wondered if it might release an Android app or two at some point, if only to get the opportunity to sell content to millions of additional consumers. In retrospect, though, iTunes for Windows existed not because Apple was interested in creating Windows apps–it was just a necessary piece of connectivity to make iPods available to Windows users. The purpose of Safari for Windows remains mysterious. And FileMaker, the Apple database division that sells both OS X and Windows versions of its wares, is a special case.
One of the many implications of the arrival of iOS 5 and iCloud is the sudden demotion (to borrow Steve Jobs’ term) of iTunes for Windows from an utterly essential piece of software to an optional bit of legacy code: it’ll be possible for an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad owner to use his or her device without ever touching iTunes. I don’t expect Apple to discontinue iTunes for Windows anytime soon, but I’ll bet it’s looking forward to the prospect. Once it’s weaned users off the software, it’ll be able to do just that.
I’m not making the case here that Apple’s apparent lack of interest in browser-based apps based entirely on Web technologies is smart, just that it’s a logical outcome of the approach that defines the company. I still think that over time, most of the things we do with local apps will migrate into apps that live mostly on the Web. It’s possible that Apple will come to wish that it had poured effort into making the MobileMe Web apps richer and more widely used.But for now, it’s just being Apple–and that’s one thing that Apple is very, very good at doing.