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Is Apple's iWorld "The Web"?

By - June 27, 2010

I spent a fair portion of today at the O’Reilly Foo Camp, as eclectic an assortment of smart folks as you’re likely to find anywhere. I wrote perhaps the first ever piece on Foo back in late 2003, and I’ve been trying to make it every year since. It’s quite a confab.

Today I asked a number of the folks I ran into the same question: “Is Apple a part of the Web?” The answers I got were nearly unanimous – no, Apple’s iWorld is not part of the Web. Apple’s approach to the world – one of control, limited APIs, top-down control, the utter lack of…dirt…well, that’s not the web. One researcher working on a large scale Web problem dismissed Apple to me in this way: “Oh yeah, Steve’s managed to repackage pieces of the Web and resell them to people, good for him. But that’s not the real Web, so who cares?”

Does Apple represent the same kind of threat to the Web that the Web itself represented to the PC/Windows hegemony ten years ago?

I went to Foo with my son, a fellow who is not averse to running a Tor relay (even as he’s not entirely sure what the heck running that relay really means. Regardless, he met a Tor employee at Foo and was deeply impressed). As we drove home this afternoon, listening the Giants fall yet again to the Boston Red Sox, he asked me this question: “Why does Apple try to control everything?”

“Well,” I responded, “Apple believes that to create the best user experience, it needs to control that experience, at least in terms of what developers can create inside Apple’s environments.”

“That’s stupid,” my son responded.

“I’m not sure,” I said, even as I admitted that in my recent musings, I’ve been pretty partisan on the topic. “It’s true that Apple makes some incredible experiences, right?” After all, my son was pretty much addicted to his iPod Touch, and I knew he was at his wit’s end trying to install Windows 7 on his two year old Dell.

“Yeah, but it took them three years to let people change their background on the iPhone,” he countered. “That’s just lame.”

“Well, you jailbroke your iPod as soon as you could…”


“…and as much as I’d like to believe that the entire universe of computing device users were 14-year-old boys, the fact is, most folks don’t want to think about jailbreaking their devices. They just want them to do whatever it is they think they are supposed to do, and if they surprise and delight them in the process (as Apple devices do), so much the better.”

My son thought about that for a tic, then said. “It’s still lame.”

Then he fell asleep, and I listened to my Giants continue their pursuit of a losing cause.

But the question stayed with me – What is the essence of “the Web,” or “The Internet”? Does Apple’s approach to the world we’ve built together over these past 15 years qualify as part of the Web? I’ve argued in the past that it does not. But perhaps I’m being too dismissive. Perhaps, after 15 years of noise, and dirt, and half steps, perhaps we all really want the Web packaged and delivered to us in neat Apps, ready for consumption.

But what do we lose when that becomes our framework for consumption of “the Web”? And what do we gain?

I think this is an important question. Clearly Google falls on one side of this question, and Apple on another. It’s easy to claim that in the end, Apple will repeat its precious history, and end up with a small percentage of the market (Mac vs. Windows, all over again).

But then again….

What do you think? Is Apple’s AppWorld part of the Internet as you understand it? And who would you like to see onstage at Web 2 debating this question?

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32 thoughts on “Is Apple's iWorld "The Web"?

  1. Debbie Sorenson says:

    High end mobile computing will revert to normal market structure, Apple 5%, Android 75%, Windows 10%, RIM etc the balance. If the product is good (which Android certainly is), you can’t beat free, even if it’s supported through advertising.

  2. Adam says:

    Will the next deeply disruptive change come from within Apple’s iOS4, or from without? I am sure it will be from left field, from the web using small and cheap devices, a way of using the internet that no one has yet seen (social, video, virtual, cloud-based) and it will surely be disruptive of iOS4, and of other web businesses. But it will not be Apple controlled. Steve Jobs will discover that if you control stuff too much, with too much process and delay, you lose the opportunity for potential surprise. It wont matter to the rest of us!

  3. Apple is really the Internet’s catalytic force. Indirectly, modern application hyperlinks were popularized with Bill Atkisons Hypercard. Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer at CERN. Reach back with Woz helping Capt. Crunch with phreaking and Novation modems in the Apple ][ machine. Don’t forget Apple has an Internet class A address space and even MSFT does not have such an IPv4 dominion. Now Apple has catalyzed net economics. Meritocratic Capitalism is where Steve Jobs and company should get a Nobel Prize in Economics, overdue by those Scandanavians to recognize the Internet as Apple being it’s best network data enzyme.

  4. Apple is really the Internet’s catalytic force. Indirectly, modern application hyperlinks were popularized with Bill Atkisons Hypercard. Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer at CERN. Reach back with Woz helping Capt. Crunch with phreaking and Novation modems in the Apple ][ machine. Don’t forget Apple has an Internet class A address space and even MSFT does not have such an IPv4 dominion. Now Apple has catalyzed net economics. Meritocratic Capitalism is where Steve Jobs and company should get a Nobel Prize in Economics, overdue by those Scandanavians to recognize the Internet as Apple being it’s best network data enzyme.

  5. Bertil says:

    I think your understanding of the Web is blind to one thing, because you never used it personally, but it does fit in my model of “controlled experiment show the open way”: the Minitel. Before becoming the mostly commercial success it is now, “the Internet” was fine, as long as you enjoyed sub-cultures, hacking your kernel or ascii-art. The huge success is the combination of two things: the mostly American idea to have on inter-connexion of all networks around a simple, scarce, open protocol, and the mostly European idea to have that network ported to everyone’s home, for profit, with guarantees and quality controls. The Web massive use of predefined SQL (rather than TimBL unstructured, wikipedia-like collection of linked pages) can trace it’s history to Minitel goal to give access to institutional databases. Without pollination between the two, the Internet would be something amazing: a network between universities to find the latest drafts and the schedule of the coming conference — period; it might even handle color or font size.

    One of these is inventive, the other triggers adoption: combine them well, and you have the Web, or the current mobile revolution; deny one, and you have Linux usability for it’s first ten years, Windows Mobile success and as many Apps as the Porn section in the iTunes Store. The iPhone is paving the way for Android: read any comment about how Google should handle their market place.

  6. Jamie says:

    This is a great topic. But isn’t mobile separate from the World Wide Web? In some cases, mobile phones have their own operating system?

    I am NOT a Apple person. So I have not bought into the entire I have to have an App world.

    But I still believe it is a division of the web?

  7. If everyone at FOOcamp managed to mix up the AppStore and Apple’s congtibution to the open web so badly, it has me questioning who are these smart, eclectic people and who pays their salaries.

    I am an ‘Apple person’. I have drunk of Windows (in about 8 flavours), Solaris, HP-UX, Ultrix, IRIX, Linux and BSD (and about a dozen of their popular WMs) and time and time again the only solutions which slake my thirst for both power and experience are ‘Designed in California by Apple’. This happened with the Mac, with Newton, with Mac OS X and most lately with iOS.

    Be very clear, John, iOS is most definitely the best way to experience mobile and, with the iPad, I am committed to the hype that it is the best way to experience the web as a whole.

    What your peers at FOOcamp seem to be conflating is the development and hosting platform (which will forever remain the domain of Mac, Windows, Linux etc) and the consumption platform. The needs of a developer cannot be met by these lovely must worthy devices which pave the way for the industry to copy. But equally, we cannot forever expect our tech-illiterate cousins and grandparents to forever maintain a machine capable of advanced software development and multiple-core computation when they only want to surf the web for last minute holiday deals and funny pictures of turtles.

    What I find most startling hover is how much power and credit you have given Apple. There are billions of devices out there. About a billion iPods and 100 million iOS devices. This is a tiny percentage of the market at large yet the media and your smart and eclectic peers waste so much breath on the underdog – and Apple still is the underdog – with so much unreasoning hatred.

    You are giving Apple mindshare and heartshare where it lacks marketshare.

  8. Jarod Tang says:

    Here’s some cases from iOS apps

    Common features of them
    1. A touch point of a web powered service
    2. Not only controlled by apple ( because they have other touch points)

    So, it’s hard to say apple split the iWorld from the web.
    And, it’s a bit miss-leading by claiming “consuming the web”. We consume services powered by the web, and there’re many different touch points to it. HTML5 or apps, and … flash, etc. All of them should help people experience the service in the best way, and integrate with the executing environment nicely.

    Currently, app dose nice for these purposes (access the services). And HTML5 maybe in the near future. And apps is not the way split the web (services) world.

  9. Jarod Tang says:

    Here’s some cases from iOS apps

    Common features of them
    1. A touch point of a web powered service
    2. Not only controlled by apple ( because they have other touch points)

    So, it’s hard to say apple split the iWorld from the web.
    And, it’s a bit miss-leading by claiming “consuming the web”. We consume services powered by the web, and there’re many different touch points to it. HTML5 or apps, and … flash, etc. All of them should help people experience the service in the best way, and integrate with the executing environment nicely.

    Currently, app dose nice for these purposes (access the services). And HTML5 maybe in the near future. And apps is not the way split the web (services) world.

  10. vishnu says:

    John, I immediately thought of a lunch buffet at a restaurant to understand the paradox that you are describing/implying in this post.

    So, lets pretend there’s this buffet and it is multi-cuisine; stuff from all major international cuisine. The guy in front of me is helping himself to chowmein, a quiche and ribs. I see him lavish soy sauce on his chowmein, spilling several drops on the ribs. He adds tartar sauce (meant for the fried fish next to the ribs) to the quiche and some honey mustard to the ribs. The lady behind me and I stare at him for longer than we should and then we help ourselves. Lets pretend that I did the chef proud and as did the lady behind me.

    The dude in front could not be bothered that he undid much of the care and attention shown by the chef and his team to create a lunch experience; he exercised his freedom to choose what he wanted, did not articulate his lunch experience to anyone, paid and left. (It is entirely left to imagination if he will repeat those same choices). While I experienced the same lunch spread in more or less the manner in which the chef’s team intended. And to that extent, perhaps my lunch experience was also along a predictable band of enjoyment (or not).

    Curation in life comes in several aspects, be it discrete aspects of it, emergency services or any other.

    Curation requires boundary conditions, and delivers some degree of declared results of experience/outcome.
    For those that dislike curation, because of the premise of it being freedom-busting will never get convinced about the benefits of the outcome being worth the boundary conditions, no matter how much you sing to them.

    While there are others who reward those that take the trouble/work to create these special/unique experiences.

    Trouble with hackers/engineers etc are that they require this belief that curation is anathema to their ability to create stuff. And that’s OK. What’s not OK if for engineers to espouse that the REST OF THE WORLD should be that way as well. Shows how small and immature their thinking is.

    I see this debate even exists only because the Apple-bashers are very anxious. They are massively attracted to the products from Cupertino, but can’t fully, publicly commit. I see this angst as a demonstration of the anxiety that they may end up loosing control to choose; mostly because they just may love Apple’s products that they don’t remember to complain about stuff that’s missing from these products.

    To call Apple’s product strategy lame just because you could not change the desktop image is a dead giveaway of the sign of immaturity of the person complaining. Should a serious corporation pay attention to such immaturity about a product’s feature set, when there are more important use cases to address?

  11. ZuDfunck says:

    I am not a deep thinker
    So these arguments or theories don’t disturb me
    I merely want my devices tom take me where I want to go to mindlessly consume the content I am interested in.

    Apple does the best job of that
    With software and hardware that just works

    That may not be the answer to the question you asked
    But it is the reason I support and am grateful for Apple.

  12. Martin Edic says:

    Android is a huge mess- I know because I own one and it has a million bugs, most of the apps stink, there are tons of spammy apps, etc. Not an issue in Apple’s world. The average user (non-techie) wants a clean, functional experience and Apple provides it.
    Need proof on the mess?

  13. slaws says:

    Apple tries to control everything because they aren’t making products for the kind of geeks that write or comment on tech blogs. They make products for all of those people who can’t figure out where the attachment to their email went when they saved it or where the scanned image goes after they try to scan something. For these folks, the majority of the computer users, simpler is better. Also, you are in no way, with the exception of Flash content (though true Flash compatibility is not available on any mobile platform), restricted from using the web. In fact, Safari on the iOS platforms is one of the best ways to experience the mobile web.

  14. Edwin says:

    Apple’s curated world, which is basically a crippled web via a plugin free browser and apps that are rarely as good as the website is nice if you want to be locked into Apple as your curator. What if I want someone else to curate my web based on criteria other than how much money Apple (my sole curator when I buy an iDevice) can extract from me?

  15. vishnu says:

    @edwin – sure you need your freedom, but you are buying a product here that you did not build in the first place. It’s the same case with your Mercedes sedan. Or your Louis Vuitton luggage. Or your Levis jeans. What’s different with Apple’s products here?

    You are not being accurate when you conclude that Apple curates your web experience – it does not do that at all. You access your web via a browser (safari or opera) or via apps – the choice is yours, say it ain’t so?

  16. Sid says:

    I just signed into to make this comment using Facebook Connect. That seems me somewhat parallel to iWorld. It is not the most open approach, but it lets me get to what is really important, and that is making a comment. I’m really glad you adopted it, John. Less friction.

    Over the last few years I have been watching what my friends in design and architecture and government are doing. And they are taking to the iWorld like a fish to water. They are only vaguely aware that there is an Internet in there somewhere.

    Technology has truly become ubiquitous for non technology users. THEY ARE GETTING STUFF DONE! Social media and iWorld apps are leading the charge. All the social media are available as iWorld apps and work well – in fact they are some of the best apps. And then there are the Google apps for iWorld. They work very well, too. I was delighted to see Gmail optimized for the iPad. Very nice beveling on the edges. Less friction.

    Googles strategy is reputedly to be to build a server based iWorld, where the apps run in the cloud, but the conceptual model and user experience are similar to iWorld.

    Goodness gracious, the browser based Web isn’t going away anytime soon. But to understand the future, I think we need to continue to look at the information users, that see tools everywhere. 200,000+ tools in iWorld, with the lowest friction around in acquisition and mastery.

    Your son, John, has mastered his iPod Touch, right? And except for screen size, it does everything my iPod and iPad do (delta an additional radio or two). Less friction.

    Maybe I’m a little twitchy today because after a long hiatus I’m back hacking in Linux and XML and XML cryptography. I am astonished that humans including myself are able to do this! Lots of friction. I hadn’t realized how easy life was doing other things. After running, I must learn to walk again.

  17. Edwin says:

    @Vishnu – Apple cripples the web by banning plugins. Most sites use plugins and the w3c has an approved spec for plugins.

    As to comparing Apple with those other brands(did you seriously compare a computer to a pair of jeans?) – Apple’s products deliver human communications like computers, phones, tv’s and radios from all sorts of manufacturers. By there very essence, these devices should not be curated by the guy that makes them.

  18. vishnu says:

    @edwin, I take your point about the fact that electronics is far away from jeans. But if you look at how they are made, it is pretty much a collab between a principal business house that owns the brand and a bunch of approved OEMs. Surely, you know that’s how Levis makes it jeans.

    Now how can you hold it against either business house to choose what suits it’s brand best? Apple has banned Flash and that’s about it. They have their reasons, you can choose to disagree. They have provided an alternative to that, albeit the fact that the alternative is not yet universal. Protesting that is like a corn-farmer protesting not able to fill his BMW with corn-oil in lieu of gas. I mean, just because he like corn oil more than gas, does not give him the right to tank up on it and expect BMW to allow their engines to support corn oil or provide you product support after you changed the terms of use. Yeah, I know, now you are going to flip with this analogy as well. 🙂

  19. mrg says:

    remember AppleTalk protocol? That was s’posed to be AAPLs internet.

    I was a kid then and said ‘stupid’ and ‘lame’.

  20. Andrew Mayne says:

    I think Apple is genuine in the idea that the web should be open and the app store proprietary.

    Name one web technology that Apple hasn’t released in open format in the last 10 years?

    They are serious about the web being based on open formats and not a mish mash of proprietary plugins.

    They don’t push QuickTime as a web format anymore. Now they embrace HTML5’s media handling as a solution.

    WebKit, is the base of the browser in every Android device. This was an open format that Apple dramatically improved and made available to their competition in the interest of creating a better open experience.

    Is the App store locked up? Of course. Are they serious about a truly open web? More than anyone else.

    While some may think it’s great that Google is rushing to embrace Flash on Android, how does Flash on Android improve the experience of the web for all of those mobile devices Adobe hasn’t decided to support in mobile form (let alone older Android phones using older versions)?

    Flash and technologies like it, fragment the web when they don’t work across the board.

  21. Laurent says:

    Hi John,

    This is a very interesting thought.
    In one way, I have a tendecy to believe there is some kind of formatting by Apple. On the other side, I can’t imagine the Web being packaged.
    The truth is the Web is way too complicated for the average user. A the end of the day, efficiency might win, which means Apple will have something to do with it.

  22. PXLated says:

    Don’t see the conflict, why all the anguish? — Sometimes I want a carefully crafted meal (Apple’s iWorld), sometimes I want a buffet (the web). Apple’s iProducts provide the best of both.

  23. I am not surprised how many of comments are pro-apple comments we are here. They’ve clearly got the winning hand right now. We’ll see about “later”, later.

  24. I would like to grow my own little IT geek. I have a 7 year old son that is kind of keen but needs directing. It would be nice to have a little homegrown inhouse expert. Any top tips?

  25. w.Disney says:

    As I’ve said before, Steve is trying to create Shangri-la on his devices. Click on any iphone-type device and you enter Shangri-la. Strange and sometimes beautiful creatures. But in the end not much depth because it is an attempt to create a utopia based on one man’s vision of Utopia. His world is just like Disneyland. Everything you see, eat and hear is from Disney or ABC. If you like Disneyland, you’ll like the iPhone OS and will soon forget what the rest of the world is like.

  26. Marc Canter says:

    Yo all you commentators – isn’t it interesting that we can have this conversation about whether Apple is the Web or not – yet at the same time be confronted by little blue F’s all over the place – and no one has brought up Facebook?

    Isn’t Facebook ALSO perverting and diverting the web into it’s own version of the Internet? Aren’t Apple and Facebook very related in their corruptive ways?

    I choose NOT to use Facebook Connect to log in. And I choose to “Like” this article, but its practically impossible to NOT run into Facebook in our everyday travels on the web.

    And Twitter is ALSO subverting the web, in their own, closed, single vendor-way.

    So my own conclusions are that the web is SO coolio – that it enables Apple, Facebook and Twitter to be corruptors – and yet we all still roll along through our on-line digital lives. And still be “lame” at the same time.

    Wanna know lame?

    How ’bout Wall St getting away with murder and our ‘so-called’ populist President letting them do that?

    How ’bout BP – and 14k deep water wells? Think MAYBE they should have remedies to possible problems? That’s lame!

    And the Middle East? Do you think that PERHAPS Jews should live in Palestine and Palestinians live in Israel? Imagine that!

    the world is a lame place and as Pappa John tried to explain to his son – what wins is compelling user experiences that make customers keep coming back for more. I sense that Microsoft is finally figuring that out. The XBox proves that.

    Microsoft’s biggest problem are their own employees. But Apple fanboys don’t care about that – they’re just happy to stay locked into one of the most vicious lock-in vices we’ve ever seen!

    And SOME of us get to be invited to exclusive, foobar events in Sebastapol.

  27. Jeff Rivett says:

    Long ago, I belonged to an Apple User Group. We helped each other solve our Apple II problems, shared software and talked about computers in general. At one memorable meeting, the organizers brought in a computer store employee to demonstrate Apple’s latest thing: the Mac. I sat through the breathless presentation and noticed the general buzz of excitement in the room. I didn’t get it at first, but after listening to some of the questions from the audience, I figured it out and asked a question of my own: “So this is a computer for stupid people, right?” Many angry glances were directed my way and the presenter declined to answer. In retrospect, what I really meant was that this was a computer for people who were not actually interested in computers or how they work. To them, a computer works best if it’s an appliance. These people became Apple’s core customer base, and they have been ever since. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  28. Yes, “Google is on one side and Apple iWorld is on the other”, but for us users, its not ‘either or’.

    For certain things, we go out the Web. For other things we enjoy safe & familiar.

    Apple understands this, all Apple devices have that window (browser) the takes straight to the Web.


  29. Alex says:

    John, there’s sufficient grounds to believe that the dichotomy that brought Apple down once no longer applies at all.

    The reason has nothing to do with the Web per se, rather with the nose-diving costs (human and $$s) of developing software. It’s entirely realistic to support any number of mobile platforms today. It takes a proficient developer 10 – 15 days to become useful in developing for the iPhone even if he’s never written Objective-C before.

    Ditto for customer loyalty. I’m on my 4th iPhone only because I like the tactile and visual aspects. Otherwise, AT&T sucks enough ass that I will gladly switch as soon as I meet an Android equally pleasing to hand and eye, may hell hath dominion over termination costs.

    We can’t call the iWorld a part of the Web, but it’ll never be too far away from it – Steve can control every aspect but the customer. The more commoditized platforms and software become, the more Apple gets dragged down to level ground with everyone else.

  30. Perrbo says:

    No, Apple’s iWorld isn’t the Web. The Web is the Web. That’s like asking if Ford is the automobile or combustion engine.

    Is there any threat that Apple will monopolize the web? No, it doesn’t have the market share. Will it? who knows, but if that ever becomes a threat, we have anti trust laws to prevent it. Look what happened to Standard Oil, Ma Bell and Microsoft.

    I just don’t get all the handwringing about how Apple is the threat that it is, or that it restricts our internet freedoms or is dumbing down the web. Limits can be a good thing – take gravity or term limits for instance. @Vishnu – I think you hit the nail brilliantly on the head re Curation.

    That being said, Google is by far a much bigger threat than Apple re controlling or restricting the web. Why THIS isn’t a point of debate at conferences like FOO astounds me.

  31. another John says:

    Why did you frame that question about Apple the way you did?

    I think you’re not seeing the forest for the trees.

    What was the first mass produced personal computer that shipped without a floppy drive? WHY?

    Have your son install Linux on that Dell!