A BROWSER MANIFESTO – PART 12
Apple began a revolution when they launched the iPhone and their App Store. The user experience was indeed revolutionary but in truth the app store was invented by NTT DoCoMo over a decade ago. DoCoMo also had the good sense to give 91% of content fees back to the developers and to launch the mobile web and make it browser-based. Today NTT DoCoMo is worth $74 billion.
But the Western media hadn’t seen or used i-mode in Japan. They were comparing the Apple App Store to a feature phone using a 2G WAP deck that had not been created by a great technology company. Thus Apple’s App Store looked new, great and the start of something big that might last for eternity. Then again, so is the World Wide Web and they’re on a collision course that Apple cannot win. The same thing happened to the PC desktop metaphor on its way to the web. Instead of the web merely becoming a desktop app, it became the fundamental new way that people organize their use of computers.
Meanwhile, just like Microsoft with Windows, Google rapidly cloned the iPhone UI and began to give it away in the form of Android licenses. There are a hundred equipment manufacturers that will turn to Android because Apple refuses to license their wonderful ecosystem to anyone. It’s déjà vu as Apple’s smartphone market share has plummeted and an even faster decline lies just ahead with tablets. You know this is bad for Apple when the biographer of Steve Jobs says his biggest betrayal, anger, and regret revolve around Android.
And anywhere that Android goes a good browser is sure to follow. With the browser comes the real killer app, the World Wide Web. We are now beginning to see hardware OEMs that make TVs, DVD players and tablets begin to use the Internet. More of them over time will realize there is more value in offering buttons to major browser services like Facebook and Google search than a button to a comparatively limited collection of apps.
This opens up new business model opportunities for OEMs that are better than licensing, or paying for, an ecosystem that in the end is inferior to Apple and identical to many rivals. Every browser service button that an OEM puts on the landing page of their device could generate revenue for the OEM. Instead of being stuck with wafer-thin manufacturing profit margins, they could take a bounty from each web software service provider. They could also collaborate and partner with new services in which they get a share of new customer revenue that is generated. The services would benefit because it would bring them new traffic on new devices and be cheaper than app stores.
All of this is now beginning to happen. It will take a few years, because native apps do offer higher performance, just as desktop apps can outperform a cloud-based enterprise app (even Apple is now embracing the cloud). Browser performance needs to migrate intact to mobile devices and stabilize; the migration of more customers from performance to convenience needs to be completed.
Also, the media is still caught up in their high opinion of app stores. I’ve noticed how media reviews of new tablet devices in the last year are always comparing app stores and often forget to talk about the browser. This will change rapidly before your eyes in the coming year. Smart game developers are already cloud-based, and in the short-term will cover both the browser and native apps on the client side. Over time the scale will tilt to the browser.