Apple versus Google in the mobile realm

John Shinal · September 5, 2008 · Short URL:

Chrome could give search giant full platform to rival iPhone

 If there's one thing that the open source model has shown, it's that no one one company can create innovative software as fast the collective developer community.

Microsoft has been learning this the hard way as Firefox has eaten away browser market share from Internet Explorer.

We tend to think of open source as being a threat to slow, plodding giants, especially those who've enjoyed monopoly status in some of their markets.

Lots of people have weighed in on the impact that Chrome could have on Microsoft. 

But open source is a threat to any proprietary software system.

The new iPhone platform is no different.

Already, we've seen developers outside Apple come up with apps that improve the user experience beyond just one application. The apps from OpenClick and iCopy, which let iPhone users cut and paste items among e-mail, Web sites and other pages, are just two examples.

Apple is said to be working on its own version of that functionality, and the developer of OpenClick has made his code open source to help speed that effort. 

But the fact remains that the collective knowledge of the world's iPhone developers was able to move faster than Apple itself to improve the iPhone system.

This comes on top of reports that Apple is a bit of a bottleneck in the process of vetting and approving applications for the Apps Store.

When the Apps Store first launched, Rich Wong pointed out that while it was a great improvement over the existing carrier deck model, it's still a walled garden.

It's easy to see how an innovative developer who feels stifled by one platform would quickly move or port his app to another one.

The prime candidate to be that other platform is Google's Android, which will be open source from the start.

With the roll out of the Chrome browser, Google now has an underlying software platform on which to run its Web-based apps.

Google founder Sergey Brin has already said that a later version of Android will include Chrome code. Combine that with Android handsets and open-source applications and you get a mobile computing system optimized for Internet use.

That sounds a lot like what Apple has with the iPhone, Safari browser and Apps Store. While Microsoft has its Windows Mobile platform, it's still dependent on wireless carriers to get applications in front of mobile users. That's a model that's quickly being usurped by Web-based apps.

Right now Apple has the momentum as consumers rush to buy iPhones and developers produce apps for it. Plus, there's no guarantee that Chrome will succeed in grabbing market share, given that Google's other forays into software haven't set the world on fire. 

But Chrome and Firefox are both open source, and since Firefox CEO John Lilly has said Mozilla will soon have a mobile version, the mobile version of Chrome is likely to be rich with features.

If the open source platform starts to out-innovate Apple and its proprietary model, it could force Steve  Jobs to open up more, both for developing browser code and for approving apps.

The mobile version of Google's browser, when it comes, will put it directly on a collision course with the iPhone.

Which means that Chrome's most pitched battle of the next few years may not be against Microsoft, but Apple.

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