Fact: In 1994 I thought Apple was going to own it all. By 1999 most magazines thought it was dead.
Fact: In 1992 Pointcast shipped. By 1999 it was dead.
Fact: In 1994 Microsoft was beta testing a system called “Blackbird.” They killed it before shipping it. It was designed to compete with Pointcast and AOL, both walled garden approaches.
What changed the course of all these technologies?
Developers and content producers.
I remember Pointcast well. I uninstalled it within weeks of trying it. It was seen back then in the same light as the iPad is today. “Cool.” “Revolutionary.” “Fun.” “Going to save publishing.”
Lots of people thought it was killed by lack of low-cost Internet (their business just didn’t work back then. Remember, back then we were paying to use CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to connect to the Internet. Compare to now when I get free Internet from businesses I use. Just yesterday I was using wifi in an oil-change place in Silicon Valley).
No, what killed Pointcast was its lack of openness. At least that’s why I uninstalled it.
It was beautiful. Just like Time Magazine is on the iPad.
But it pissed me off. Everytime I’d read an article in it I’d try to tell someone else about it. I couldn’t. There weren’t any permalinks and the baaaahhhhssstttaaaarrrrdddddssss were so greedy that they made it impossible to copy and paste text from it.
Sure seems a lot like Time Magazine does on the iPad.
Guess what? I’ve already uninstalled that and the Wall Street Journal and New York Times apps are next. They suck. They suck the same way that Pointcast did. Greedy baaaahhhhssssttttaaaarrrrdddddsssss who don’t want me to tell anyone else about their awesome content. Well, it sure is pretty. Gag.
So why haven’t I returned my iPad if its major content partners behave just like Pointcast’s did? Because, well, the iPad does so much more and has a Web browser that hasn’t yet been limited like Pointcast’s content displays were (and Time’s and WSJs). My fight is not with the iPad, but with the old-school media publishers. Luckily there’s other ways to get their content (get the Skygrid app, it’s most excellent) too. So, they can look pretty and collect money from people who don’t realize just how limiting these apps are (Time did get my $5, but not anymore).
What did Pointcast in (content publisher greed) isn’t what did Apple in, though. No, that was all about the closed arrogant system that Apple had built. It turned off developers by the droves.
Not that Apple was all that wrong. They were trying to protect users from ugly apps. They saw the Macintosh as “art” while Bill Gates had no such delusions. Bill told developers “build” and even gave them a tool that looked like a modern Hypercard: Visual Basic. Apple in the meantime killed Hypercard because it enabled normal people to build really ugly and wacky apps.
What did Steve Jobs do yesterday? Told the normal people “you will NOT build apps on my beautiful machine.”
Now WHY would he do such a thing? Well, for one thing it might Steve trying to return the favor Adobe paid Apple when Adobe didn’t support OSX.
Nah. Steve has bigger visions than that. Here’s my theory: Steve knows that apps are lockin. They lock users into a platform. Heck, so far I’ve spent $200 on apps for my iPad. So, now, if a competitor comes along (say from Google) they have to convince me that their machine is worth more than $200 more to get me to switch.
But what apps are really getting people to buy? Well, Appsfire has been tracking the most popular iPhone apps and you’ll see that just a small number generate most of the revenue (and, more importantly, PR attention) for Apple.
So, what does Apple need? Is it more apps? No way. At 130,000 apps Apple already has enough apps to keep a sizeable lead for years over its competitors like Google’s Android OS.
No, what Apple needs is better quality apps. So, does Apple care about templated apps or ones developed in Flash or some other cross-device language/system? No way.
In fact, if anything, Apple does NOT want developers to develop apps for other hardware at all, or if it must, it wants the apps on other platforms to suck and suck visibly. Just like today. Tweetie (which was just purchased by Twitter, more on that in a second) is a LOT better than Seesmic or Twitroid on Android. Steve Jobs LOVES when that happens because it keeps you locked into the iPhone and iPad.
So, how does Steve Jobs make sure that the best developers work on iPhone and don’t work on building systems that make it easy to port apps from iPhone to Android or Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 7, or to Nokia or to RIM’s Blackberry (which is VERY hard to develop for)?
Well, easy, make it against the rules!
This pisses everyone off, because they thought that they would be able to hire one development team to build for all platforms, but now they’ll have to build two development teams: one for the iPhone and one for everything else.
This guarantees that apps will suck on everything else, but will be fast and special on iPhone. Why? Because, well, if you hire a developer who can do Objective-C that developer is generally going to be a lot more talented than someone who can only do Flash. That developer will come up with some cool new features that the Flash or .NET versions won’t have (or, even worse, can’t have because those systems must compile to a lowest-common-denominator).
Steve Jobs wins this game. Why? Because he — unlike in 1994 — controls the developers.
Will that change? Only if enough of the world’s top developers vote against their own self interest and develop for other platforms. We already have an example of one: Joe Hewitt, who is the guy who wrote the Facebook app for iPhone. He said he isn’t building apps for the iPhone anymore. Already on the iPad there’s one HUGE app that isn’t there: Facebook’s.
Until at least 20 other of the top 100 iPad/iPhone developers join him this won’t matter and Steve Jobs has control. Will others join Joe?
So now Twitter is showing its own version of causing trouble with developers in order to move to the next level. What did Twitter do? In the past few days they’ve released a Blackberry client and bought iPhone developer Tweetie and said they intend to rerelease Tweetie for free under the Twitter brand.
This was like a bomb going off in the Twitter developer community as developers like Seesmic and Tweetdeck realized they had a new competitor: Twitter itself. How unplatform like!
But what really is going on is Twitter is about to unleash SuperTweets (well, OK, Twitter will probably call them something else, but the effect is the same). What are SuperTweets? A new metadata display surface that goes along with Tweets so a new form of advertising can be born.
This is why Twitter needed to do its own clients to ensure that SuperTweets would be seen by enough of its users to make them valuable and also to ensure that other client developers got on board. Tweetie is now a stick that Twitter can use to get everyone else in line, just like Mark Suster says Salesforce did after acquiring Koral: explain the new opportunities that SuperTweets (or whatever they will be called) will bring to all developers.
Now it’ll be interesting to see what Seesmic does in reaction to the beating they seem like they are taking (ala on Techcrunch too!).
Personally I see a great way for Seesmic to come out on top: add curation features. If Seesmic had that I’d switch to it instantly and start building exclusive content for its real time system that it could then push to its own clients and sell advertising for. That’s how it’ll dig out of its hole, but not sure that Loic is able to see this. He’s about to announce a new platform that gets VERY close, though, so it wouldn’t require much more work.
Seesmic has a major chance to make everyone else look like Pointcast. Dave Winer shines the light on the situation. I sure need curation features, will be interesting to see who delivers them first.
FACEBOOK WAITING IN THE WINGS
The question I’m hearing over and over as I visit entrepreneurs is “how open is Facebook going to get?”
I am hearing rumblings that Facebook is about to explode its own bomb at its F8 conference: one that makes everyone realize just how serious Facebook is about becoming the connective tissue of Web services and sites. I don’t think we’ll hear the real leaks until after Twitter’s Chirp conference is done (Twitter’s conference is this week, Facebook’s is next).
Anyway, all these words are about one thing: there’s a fight between closed systems and open systems going on right now, just like there was between Pointcast and Blackbird and AOL one one side in the 1990s and the Web on the other. We know now that the Web won.
Will it win again?