A heavy news week has seen substantive improvements to the iPhone and Silverlight platforms, a Sun buyout rumor, Sun and Cisco weighing in to the Cloud expansion, and continued reverberations from Facebook’s full frontal assault on Twitter and the realtime stream. Any one of these stories would have sufficient legs by itself, but the combined jolts to the system add up to something bigger.
Apple’s iPhone 3.0 software announcements won’t ship until summer, but the implications for developers have already fostered some counter-shots across Apple’s bow from both Google and Microsoft. Steve Ballmer pigeonholes the iPhone as a $500 device with a ceiling of a small section of the worldwide market, with devices in the $200 range a broad Microsoft opportunity, while Android fans laud Google App integration and the lack of developer roadblocks as signs of a coup in progress.
But Apple has an iron grip on its lead in the market and an even surer understanding of what it will take to retain its dominant role in mobile computing. The 3.0 upgrade plugs virtually all the holes in the architecture, with Spotlight search across all apps the last feature that allowed Blackberry users to fight on. We can continue to complain about AppStore embargoes on video and VoIP over 3G, but Push Notification splits the baby for the developer market without capsizing the battery drain of background processing.
Indeed, virtually every iPhone application category shows significant signs of breaking out with the combined feature set. What Apple understands is the symbiotic relationship between media and carrier, with Apple the mediator and market maker. The New York Times app is now close to replacing the print edition from a usability perspective, and the ability to upsell extended features via on-demand subscriptions provides a rationale for the company to give away the store today.
Microsoft’s support for H.264 video in Silverlight 3 goes a long way toward ratifying the codec popularized by YouTube as the base video format of the Web. Much as Apple has locked down the avenues for competitors to make inroads on the heart of the elite mobile market, Microsoft is moving aggressively with Silverlight to establish a cross-OS platform on the desktop. Silverlight 3 is moving so fast there will be only one beta before release perhaps as early as the summer but certainly well in time for the PDC in November where Ballmer promises the Azure cloud will ship.
Scott Guthrie’s Mix ’09 keynote showed dramatic progress in developer tools for SIlverlight, essentially moving Windows development tools for desktop apps into the Silverlight environment. Silverlight’s new out-of-browser feature further blurs the distinction between a Windows app and a cross-platform (read Mac) app, as does deep linking to automate search engine optimization. Like Apple, Microsoft is using its deep platform control and investment in API tooling to stay open enough provide credible alternatives to open stack strategies.
Sun’s open strategy may not have had an obvious effect on the struggling company’s bottom line, but its R&D investments appears to have attracted IBM in much the same way that Yahoo’s vulnerability encouraged Microsoft to try and acquire that other beleaguered Valley property. Sun’s moves in storage may also have triggered Cisco’s jump into the server market, as both companies try to consolidate their assets quickly under a Cloud umbrella. When Microsoft can deliver what used to be called the Biztalk enterprise message bus as a RESTian Azure service hooked up to AppEngine and Facebook, you can see why Sun may be the first of a series of dominoes falling that may end at Oracle’s doorstep.
Of course, a cloud service bus can carry an activity stream, so Facebook’s Everyone opening of its tweetstream means that Twitter’s “control” of track is soon to be commoditized. Realtime search of the cloud message bus can now be accomplished (during Azure’s CTP phase) for free, and shortly afterward by any of the growing number of cloud players at a price that will likely approach zero as the stream is given away as a come-on for SLAs, security, and geolocation services.
Facebook is deadly serious here, like Apple and Microsoft giving users enough control of the services they need to bootstrap today in return for eventual allegiance to the code bases and tools they use to get there quickly. As Twitter goes from being the arbiter of access to an equal or perhaps weaker partner in monetizing the social cloud, the pressure to be acquired will accelerate.
For Microsoft, who needs a game changer in search, social search in realtime may prove sufficiently attractive at a time when a Twitter-esque service could be slapped into Azure with a minimum of effort. What better way to market the Azure cloud while finding the 15 or 20% search share where Google has no realtime clout? The last time I tried it, it took 10 minutes and then 2 hours for Google to index a Tweet. Why, you could even keep calling it Live Search.