Steve Jobs' backflip on a key aspect of the iPhone stood out from a normal day -- broadband furore, antagonistic marketing, personal attacks and government inaction -- in the world of Australia's telecoms market.
At this week's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Jobs said the iPhone, that oh-so-cool gadget set to make its mark on the US later this month (and on Australia, whenever Apple gets around to it), would have the ability to run third-party applications.
Mobile phone traditionalists think the iPhone needs new applications like a fish needs a bicycle. Steve Jobs made this point very clear in a January interview with the New York Times:
We define everything that is on the phone. You don't want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn't work anymore. ... These are devices that need to work, and you can't do that if you load any software on them.
That doesn't mean there's not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn't mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.
In April I was lambasted by readers after I interviewed Microsoft's regional mobiles guy, who said the iPhone's lack of a clear software development interface would keep it out of the business market, where mobile executives want phones that support mobile clients from the likes of SAP, Oracle, Citrix, and so on.
Judging by Jobs' initial comments, this was just fine with Apple. The company did, after all, drop the word "Computer" from its name and has enunciated its aspirations as a consumer electronics company.
Applications on the iPhone. This reverses what Jobs told the New York Times -- or does it? Despite his admonition that phones wouldn't work "if you load any software on them", Apple is providing the engine to enable just this. Or, perhaps, he meant "just any software", that is, anything not written by Apple.
At any rate, this must be the "controlled environment" he spoke of. By turning Safari from a Web page viewer into a platform for loading and managing Ajax applications, he's tying iPhone customers to an online/offline application model that is fast gaining traction among online application providers.
Safari will be the sandbox in which key applications run and play, as opposed to Windows Mobile smartphones that provide applications with access to the entire device.
Apple's model is like Java all over again, particularly since an even more interesting part of Jobs' announcement was the follow-up statement that Safari 3.0 will also be available on the Windows platform. Apple, offering a Windows Web browser that will be functionally compatible with the browser on the iPhone?
This sounds like a full application ecosystem to me -- far from not loading any applications on the iPhone. But if Apple can get some killer Ajax-based applications into the iPhone ecosystem soon, it could potentially begin wooing the corporate market it alienated after Jobs slammed the mobile application concept in January.
For my money, I reckon Apple should encourage Research in Motion to market an Ajax-based Blackberry client for the iPhone, similar to the Windows Mobile client it recently released. This would cement RIM's position on the iPhone early on, and open up a massive market for telecommunications providers for whom Blackberries are already good business.
Another point worth noting, if applications download and persist on client devices using Ajax, they don't require as much bandwidth as if they're running exclusively online. This could vindicate Apple's much-criticised decision to base the iPhone on EDGE and not on faster 3G networks.
That Ajax applications are quickly becoming mainstream is testament to the rapidly changing nature of Web 2.0. It also confirms that in the world of telecommunications, things change so fast that even the most blatant backflips can make sense.