Apple takes soft line

While attention remains focused on its forthcoming iPhone, Apple used last week's developer conference to highlight changes to its software lineup.

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By  Peter Branton Published  June 16, 2007

When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison referred to Apple as the "only lifestyle brand in the technology industry" he highlighted the design qualities of the hardware: from the silver iMac to the all-white iPod media player, Apple has made frankly some of the coolest kit around.

With the firm's much-anticipated iPhone scheduled to be launched at the end of this month, last week's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, in San Francisco, US, would have seemed a good opportunity for more of the same: instead however, Apple put the spotlight firmly on some of its software.

While the iPhone was not ignored, the key announcement around it was that it will be able to run third-party applications via Apple's Safari web browser, which will run in full on the phone. More attention was given to the fact that Apple is now making a version of Safari that will run on the Windows operating system - a move that would seem to re-ignite the browser wars of the 1990s.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also spent most of his keynote discussing new features in the next version of his company's own operating system - Apple OS X 10.5, or Leopard, which is scheduled for release in October this year.

Considering that October release date was effectively decided on so that Apple could complete work on the iPhone in time, the switch in priorities might seem a little surprising. However, there are good reasons why Apple was so keen to focus on software this time around, rather than talk more about the shiny boxes that would be running it.

Looking at the Safari announcement first and it is easy to see the benefit of opening it up to Windows users - for Apple anyway. By allowing Safari to run on Windows, Apple can bolster its share of the browser market; Safari currently has around 5% market share, compared to Internet Explorer's 78%, according to figures cited by Jobs (the open source Firefox browser has about 15% market share).

It is a tactic that Apple has already used successfully with its iTunes software and iPod media player, allowing them to vastly expand their target markets. Apple said last week that Windows users have already downloaded the iTunes software more than 500 million times

"We think Windows users are going to be really impressed when they see how fast and intuitive web browsing can be with Safari," Jobs said. "Hundreds of millions of Windows users already use iTunes, and we look forward to turning them on to Safari's superior browsing experience too."

Safari 3, the latest version of the browser, is available now in beta as a download from Apple's site, while the final version will be available in October: either with Leopard, or as a download for OS X Tiger and Windows users.

The move would also encourage more web site creators and application developers to work with the browser. Windows' virtual monopoly of the desktop space means that independent software vendors prefer to write products that work with it, knowing that doing so will help to sell far more copies. As software distribution increasingly shifts online, a stronger share of the browser market can only help Apple.

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