Apple's garden wall is cracking

Apple's garden wall is cracking

Summary: At next week's iPhone 5 launch, we'll marvel at Apple's leadership of the mobile Web. But early adoption of HTML5 and the lesson of history tells us iOS will soon be in decline.


Usage of the mobile Web is overtaking the conventional Web that we've been accessing from desktop and laptop computers since the beginning of Internet time (or rather, the last 20 years of it). But does that mean the end of the Web browser as the universal platform for accessing online resources? Many people have looked at the rise of the app store concept and the boom in application development for Apple's iOS platform, Google Android and others. Some even say the Web is 'dead meat'. They've extrapolated a trend that sees us all abandoning the browser and entrusting our online activities to proprietary platforms owned by Apple, Google or even Facebook. I don't think that's how the future is going to pan out. HTML5 is leading the fightback on behalf of the universal Web, and the signs are starting to emerge that it will eventually win the battle for supremacy.

I'm emboldened in this prediction by my memories of what happened the last time the conventional wisdom said that carefully nurtured walled gardens would eventually replace the jumbled chaos of the open Web. Back in the late 1990s, media companies were falling over themselves to set up their own proprietary enclaves on the Web, all believing that the AOL model was the one to emulate. That misguided belief in blind loyalty to a trusted location on the Web, by the way, is at the heart of Yahoo!'s continuing strategic confusion and is why I continue to naysay Facebook's ultimate dominance, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Here's why these walled gardens fail to live up to their early promise. In the evolution of a new shared platform, whether it be the Web, the mobile Web, or the social Web, the early successes are achieved by companies that can control the environment they offer to the first consumers. That control allows them to manage how they deliver the innovations of the new platform. People don't know what to expect and haven't learn how to master these new capabilities, so they eagerly embrace the controlled environment of a proprietary platform.

But once people start to learn the new skills and habits of the environment, they become more confident and demanding. Meanwhile, the underlying shared platform begins to evolve a richer standards-based environment that replicates many of the innovations of the first movers. New resources come on stream on the shared platform and, because it's open, innovation can flourish and the choice available rapidly overtakes what's offered by the proprietary first movers. Their walled gardens begin to give up their huge populations and eventually, bled dry by the exodus over many years, they finally relent and reluctantly adopt the open platform they sought for too long to supplant.

As HTML5 takes shape, we're now entering the first phase of this move away from proprietary platforms in the mobile web. It's no surprise that users prefer the proprietary environments today, when so many of the richer user experiences are simply not available in present-day mobile web browsers. HTML5 changes that, as [a client, see disclosure] showed off very eloquently last month in its preview of its HTML5 toolkit.

Yesterday, SlideShare revealed its move to HTML5, citing developer resource and app store lock-in as factors in its decision. These early adopters are just a trickle for now, but they will embolden many others to follow suit, and before long, the trickle will become a flood. In retrospect, Apple's decision not to implement Flash on iOS — which created a huge incentive for everyone else to collaborate to rapidly bring out HTML5 to plug the gap — may turn out to have been one of the worst tactical judgements in computing history. Nothing is more inimical to the survival of a proprietary platform than the widespread adoption of an open alternative that wins over large numbers of developers.

Of course there will be new innovations on show at next week's anticipated iPhone 5 launch. For a while, Apple will continue to profit mightily from the leadership it has established with its groundbreaking iOS platform and astonishing devices (I have an iPhone and iPad and love them both). But already, the first cracks in the wall are visible. In the long term, HTML5 will sweep away Apple's proprietary walled garden. Let's hope the company handles the outcome better than AOL did.

Topics: Browser, Apple, Emerging Tech, Software Development

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

    I think what drove the nail into the likes of AOL was that they lost control of access to the web. Others delivered high-speed connections and email. Websites built in interaction. AOL was disrupted. They sold out close to the top of the market and their problems became Time/Warner problems.

    It looks to me as Facebook is doing the AOL thing again. Maybe this time it will work. Facebook has more horsepower for its services and everyone brings their own connection (and, so far, no embarrassing over capacity as happened to AOL in 1997, which necessitated a huge capital expenditure to buy modems.)

    Since Apple doesn't sell iOS to others and the company remains a force for HTML5 and web technology improvement (WebKit), it's in Apple interests that its customers, the folks who buy iPads and iPhones, get the best experience whether native or web app.

    But you may be right, though, if disruptions could be predicted, they wouldn't be disruptions.
    • Wall gardens are like ...


      ... gated communities. If the gated community is worse than the outside world, users will increasingly want to get out. If the gated community is better than the outside world, users will increasingly want to get in. The problem with the AOL gated community, was that the outside web was becoming increasingly more appealing - in terms of content and user experience - than its walled garden. That is why the AOL ecosystem eventually collapsed - or became much reduced. The reason why the iOS gated community keeps growing and increasing in appeal, is because it provides an increasingly better user experience, and some content which cannot be found on the web. As long as the iOS gated community experience continues to widen with respect to the rest of the web, the more secure will be the iOS ecosystem. The same applies to all other proprietary ecosystems.

      Now I do not understand this anti-walled garden mentality by bloggers. Every business aspires to establish and grow its walled garden, because all businesses try to acquire and keep their customers, and have them continue to buy stuff from them - and not their competitors. This has been the case from the beginning of commerce. Having an ecosystem in which people pay for stuff - including the news - leads to a healthy economy, and serves the interests of everyone - including bloggers, because bloggers' content will gain value, and will allow bloggers to make more money. In fact as it stands now, proprietary walled gardens are news content producers' best hope of making money on the Internet, because the walled garden eliminating effect of the web makes this extremely difficult to do.

      To make money in just about every business, requires you to establish a wall garden of some sort. Even Google has a walled garden - in the way its search engine (and other services) coalesce people, and direct them to other Google services and ads across the web.
      P. Douglas
      • Better?

        @P. Douglas <br>As the "gated" community grows, I am finding it becoming more frustrating. There is a sense of scripted lawlessness in the Apple garden. More and more I have to "discover", very frustratingly at times, that to get a true web content, I have to know to download an app. This is not consistent and frequently requires me to either use both or jump to the walled "Android" garden or old style garden (notebook) and perform my consumption.<br>This has resulted in a decrease in the personal time I spend on my iPad and has increased the time I spend on my Android tablet.<br>If I had to choose, I wouldnside with Android. Not because it is better but because it allows me more freedom to accessthe content I want.<br>Having to hunt down a surprise app to view content on the iPad pretty much ensures you have lost me as a browsing customer on that device for that market segment.<br><br>Yeah, I can see it. Either the evolution scales quickly or the revolution will die.
      • Re: Wall gardens are like ...

        @P. Douglas I agree with you that businesses always seek to form ecosystems that protect their interests and profits. The corollary is that consumers/customers always seek to preserve choice to protect their interests and budgets. My contention is that, in the context of the Internet, consumers always win in the end because the shared platform ends up offering more choice than any closed platform.
  • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

    Apple's walled garden encompasses more than the concept of the "one stop serves all needs" business mode that you cited in your blog article. (i.e. AOL)

    Apple's Walled Garden concept (and soon to be emulated by Microsoft) also encompasses the app store business model which you failed to mention in your article.

    The App Store Walled Garden approach is an excellent defense against the wide spread distribution of malware content. (Unless it's Google's concept of an App Store .. Grin)

    At any rate, HMTL5 adoption was endorsed by both Apple and Microsoft long before the concept of a "Walled Garden" was put forth by online bloggers.

    As a business model, "One Click Buying / One site serves All" - or your definition of a Walled Garden - is a widespread business model, just ask Amazon, and the widespread adoption of HMTL5 (as opposed to proprietary and closed systems like Flash or Silerlight) should not affect the Walled Garden business model in any significant way.
    • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

      @kenosha7777 Thank you for not reading my article and instead responding to a completely made-up version sourced from your own imagination.

      What I wrote is that the Apple app store is a walled garden because it runs on a proprietary platform, iOS. It is not the same as Amazon, which runs on the open Web.
      • Still makes no sense; why iOS or WP7 users would all of sudden cease to ...

        @philwainewright: ... search applications in App Store? Why would they choose to use browser to seek the needed functionality?

        Most of AppStore applications are free anyway, and almost all of the rest are cheap. Why go to slower, less-optimized web applications?
      • With all do respect, Phil (which is much more than you gave me)


        I did read your article. It simply didn't make sense pertaining to your main points. To address your failure to establish those points please see the following comments from hcneck.;1_103748_2057896

        or from doctorSpoc.;1_103748_2057846

        IMO, if a person wishes to establish why one platform (in your example, iOS) will fail over time, a person should first depict that platform's strengths (which you didn't) and weaknesses (which your examples equated the AOL business model to the iOS app store business model - a dubious example at best) and then argue your case.

        My take on your whole article was that the wide spread adoption of HTML5 web apps would slow and then eliminate the usefulness of the iOS App store ecosystem (your "cracks in the wall" metaphor).

        As so many other talkback readers have noted, you have failed to establish that main point with any credible opinions or examples.
      • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking


        The Apple's App Store might be walled garden for software download (you are overloading that word with yet another meaning), but what does this have to do with Internet and "sites"?

        There is nothing stopping you from using the iOS Safari browser to access anything on Internet, anywhere. Apple hopes that more and more sites will move away from proprietary content delivery mechanisms such as Flash and Silverlight and adopt HTML5.

        If you need a non-browser application, you get one, from AppStore.

        If you are in bad need of some application that doesn't yet exist, Apple offers wonderful IDE for software (apps) development. You can run your own applications on your own iOS devices, or, share these with few friends, or if you wish send them to AppStore for worldwide distribution, or if you are larger corporation build your own intra-company AppStore. First two options are even free.

        Start here for factual information:
      • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking


        Before the App store opened in 2008, Apple was pushing Web Apps.

        Web Apps have been delivering things like adult content which Apple don't want in their family oriented App store.

        Apple is first and foremost a hardware company.
      • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

        @philwainewright Why are all bloggers seeing HTML5 and the mystical "cloud" as the solution to all problems? They may help solve specific business problems, but there are easily as many problems as there are good points. The two biggest problems seem to get brushed under the rug by all the clingers who wish to seem cool by jumping blindly on the "cloud everything" bandwagon.

        1. If one user's desktop applications stop working, only that user is affected. If a cloud service goes down, EVERYONE who depends on that service is affected. One need only look at recent outages in Google and Amazon cloud services for an example of this. The potential cost to business of having every user in the company unable to perform their daily functions is astronomical. This was part of the reason companies moved away from mainframes to desktop computing, but everyone seems to forget that time period.
        2. For people who travel, the cloud is not always available. Sitting on an airplane during a cross-country flight means you can't get any work done when your applications are hosted elsewhere. Even having an unreliable Internet connection can reduce productivity by large amounts. Desktop applications do not suffer from this problem.
        3. Any information which is not hosted locally or which travels over communication channels not under the complete control of the owner is subject to potential snooping. There is no such thing as 100% secure. There is risk involved in all cloud transactions. This is just reality.

        Yes, HTML5 is a good thing. The cloud, used judiciously, is also a good thing. Neither will replace desktop computing. The problem is, most bloggers are so caught up in the hype that they are not taking real-world scenarios into account. They are simply fanning the flames of disinformation and not helping their readers make more informed decisions about when these technologies are appropriate. The headlong rush to replace native applications and desktop computing with the cloud and HTML5 is going to cause a lot of heartache in the future.
    • Good Point.


      Why would someone write an app w/ malware content, submit to Apple hoping to get it approved, for Apple to only turn it down?

      When, all they have to do is create a specially crafted PDF, and iOS is rooted.
      • Your sarcasm is duly noted.

        @chmod 777

        Next time I, or any other person wishing to download an app from either Apple's or Microsoft's App Store in search of a useable tool free from malware, my first choice will be to to bypass that app store resource and then click blinding on a "specially crafted PDF" file from a web site or email specifically targeted to administer that malicious pdf file (like, there would be SO MANY sites infected with that piece of code) and then download the app that I wished from that site instead of a known and secure site like Apple's or Microsoft's App store locations.

        Next time, try to make your off topic point using a more realistic example.
      • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

        @chmod 777

        I doubt you know what is rooted.
      • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

        @kenosha7777: Eh... The PDF can be hidden in an iFrame on some web page. Maybe it can even from the ads in an app. If some app would use plain HTTP to download PDFs, your phone can be hacked by a stranger on an open WiFi in seconds.
        Note that Apple has had that problem at least twice, three times actually IIRC, that malicious PDFs could jailbreak/hack the device just by being opened in iOS.
    • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

      @kenosha7777 Very true! Agreed.
      <a href="">fb</a>
  • OMG, get a clue!

    HTML 5 is just a technology.. there are even a good deal of apps that just are web apps, but run webkit within them.. HTML5 has nothing to do with Apple's success or not.. seems to be this is Apple getting rid of competing services squatting inside it's "walled garden" paying nothing and getting all the advantages for free.. that 30% tax is essentially their eviction papers..

    Apple essentially runs a mall.. you can set up inside the mall or you can set up across the street... if a tonne of traffic (100+ million eyeballs), free advertising and distribution, transaction infrastructure etc is something that would be advantageous then it works for you.. this is great for small and middle sized players... and this is not going to change with or without HTML 5.. but for large players it's not really necessary.. add to the fact that you can add a desktop icon and it will appear to work just like an app.. but you still lose out on all those eyeballs..
    • Hear you but...

      Why does it feel when I am in the iTunes store that I have stepped into the worlds largest series of infommercials?
      I have come to rely more on a vendor telling me they have an app than I do searching for an app.

      Pretty much applies to both Apple and Android...
      They only real searching I do anymore is on Cydia....
  • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

    Phil, I agree with you... I think the real thing that killed AOL was people getting a taste of the real web and not just what AOL wanted you to see.

    As for iOS, a lot of these guys clamor that Apple makes its money from high Mark up and a huge App store... Well, Amazon showed everyone the way to go was to make an HTML 5 web based App and you skirted Apple's fees. This is huge because content providers will likely follow suit unless Apple blocks the idea with some absurd new change but these very things are fueling the Android Markets growth and the growth of the platform as a whole.

    Ultimately, we will see the decline of iOS as people realize Apple's way isn't the only way things have to be done and there are alternatives that are as good or better out there.
    • RE: Apple's garden wall is cracking

      @Peter Perry

      Actually, the Kindle Application is still available at Apple's App Store, and personally I think it is much better than the web app. What Amazon achieves with this web app is that it can be used on all tablet and smartphone devices.

      The only drawback with the Kindle app is that you can no longer purchase books through it. Instead, you will have to open Safari (or another browser if you are not using an iPad), move to or the like - and purchase your Kindle titles there

      The books will then automatically move to your iPad.