Sanity check: Is Apple really trying to revolutionize mobile apps with its iPhone-Safari strategy?

Safari logoApple has released Safari for Windows. I understand that the iPhone runs a full version of Safari and Apple wants to use Safari as a platform to build Web 2.0 applications as software add-ons (instead of releasing an iPhone SDK to developers). And since the iPhone (like the iPod) will likely be in the hands of more Windows users than Mac users, Apple needs Safari to have a footprint in the Windows world. I get it. The problem is that Safari in Mac OS X is not that great, so why would Windows users want to switch to Safari? And what is Apple really doing with its iPhone/Safari strategy?

Issues with Safari

My regular machine is a ThinkPad running Windows XP, but I also regularly use a MacBook Pro and from the time I started using the Mac at the beginning of 2007, I quickly ditched Safari for Firefox and Flock (a spin off of Firefox that's even better than the original).

Here's why I don't like Safari in OS X:

  • The interface is not very customizable.
  • It's not as easy to work with tabs and I use tabs a lot. I usually put a New Tab button on my browser toolbar, but Safari doesn't allow that.
  • It doesn't have a Spell Check button on the toolbar like Flock. Safari has a built-in spell check feature, but you have to navigate the Edit menu to get to it.
  • Safari is ugly, especially by Apple standards. It looks like a throwback to Netscape and Mozilla from 1996.

The one thing I do like about Safari in Mac OS X is that it loads pages pretty fast. Along with Flock, it's one of the fastest browsers I've used. However, the lack of Spell Check and New Tab buttons on the toolbar slows me down in my daily work. Also, there was a report from Wired yesterday that the first beta of Safari is slower than IE and Firefox in Windows.

Safari on Windows

The screenshot below is part of TechRepublic's gallery of the Safari 3.0 Beta for Windows.

Safari for Windows

Sanity check

By releasing Safari on Windows, Apple wants to gain Web browser momentum to turn Safari into a legitimate Web 2.0 platform.

First, if it hopes to accomplish that, it needs to make Safari better and more usable -- on both Mac and Windows.

Second, I'm still trying to figure out whether Apple simply doesn't want to deal with the implications of releasing an SDK for iPhone (and thinks iPhone doesn't really need a lot of help from partners) and so it's just telling developers to do their add-ons as Web apps, or whether Apple is truly committed to changing the mobile software landscape by circumventing the SDK process and forcing partners to make a bold move with Web 2.0 and AJAX-powered apps.

The latter is essentially what Apple wants us to believe, but the former could still be closer to the truth. This iPhone/Safari strategy either shows that Apple is primarily going it alone as usual or is ready to break new ground in allowing partners to extend one of its key product lines. I'm looking to see how much Apple works to catalyze partners into developing iPhone apps and how many good apps come out for the iPhone beyond the ones developed by Apple.

Your take?

What direction do you think Apple is taking with this iPhone/Safari strategy? How do you feel about Safari as a Web browser? Join the discussion.