Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) are the coolest mobile gadgets on the planet. Apple maintains tight control over its platform and every piece of software created for it.
What’s a technology rival to do?
The only thing it can: aim at the weak spot, at the iOS Achilles’ heel. It has a blue icon. It’s called Safari.
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According to TechCrunch, that’s what Facebook is working on right now. Something called Project Spartan, built using the same HTML5 standards you might find on dozens of modern websites.
If they build something on the web, but build it specifically for use with iOS devices, they can wrestle back some of that control.
The web is the web, after all. No one’s in charge. No one can tell you what you can or cannot create.
U.K. business newspaper, the Financial Times, has already taken a step down this path. Last week it opened a web version of its site aimed squarely at iPad and iPhone readers. Built using HTML5, it makes full use of everything in iOS that developers of websites can reach without having to jump through Apple’s developer programm hoops. The site is slick and impressive. And you have to pay up – directly to the FT, not via Apple – to read it. Playboy is trying out a similar tactic, as well.
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If TechCrunch has it right, Facebook wants to do something very similar. It wants a platform it can control, but wants it on the hardware that people love to use.
If it can get enough people using an iOS-optimized website, it can use that to sell them stuff too. It can sell apps that work within its web platform (as opposed to apps that have to approved by Apple first). Of course, these secondary apps wouldn’t appear on an iOS user’s home screen. They’d only show up once Facebook was opened inside Safari. But being hidden behind a Facebook icon doesn’t have to be a problem – it certainly wasn’t for the makers of Farmville.
As Apple’s grip on the technology industry continues to tighten, it’s a fair bet that we’ll be seeing more companies taking this approach in the coming months and years. There’s still plenty of life left in the web yet.
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