Analysis: Safari move driven by iPhone, market share

If a Windows version of a Mac application seemed like an odd choice for one of Steve Jobs’ trademark “One more thing…” keynote surprises, it shouldn’t be, analysts who follow the company say. Developing a Windows version of Safari not only benefits Apple’s high-profile iPhone, it also helps Apple build market share in the overall browser market.

Apple’s Safari announcement came at the end of 90-minute keynote that kicked off the company’s weeklong Worldwide Developers Conference. And while most of Jobs’ talk focused on the upcoming Leopard release for Mac OS X, it was clearly the Safari news that caused the biggest stir among attendees.

The public beta of Safari 3 hits the Web just 18 days before the iPhone hits retail shelves. That’s no coincidence, says Ross Rubin, director of analysis at market-research firm NPD Group, especially in light of Jobs’ other keynote-concluding surprise—that third-party software makers would be able to create applications for the phone that run within the version of Safari included on the mobile device. Extending Safari’s reach to Windows allows developers on that platform to familiarize themselves with Apple technologies, Rubin said.

A second reason for Apple’s expansion into the Windows browser market might be a simple matter of green: over the past two years the Mozilla Foundation, publishers of Firefox, has made more than $100 million in revenue from embedded Google search links in its browser, according to the New York Times. The more Safari users, the larger Apple’s revenue from its own deal with Google.

And that could explain the motivation behind Apple’s other reasons for creating a Windows version of Safari. “In addition to the iPhone, there are two things Apple is looking for—increasing overall market share to ensure developers are supporting it [Safari] and bolstering the number of alternatives to Internet Explorer,” Rubin said.

Indeed, Jobs said as much during his keynote. According to figures quoted by the Apple CEO, the Mac OS-only version of Safari enjoys a 5-percent share of the browsing market; the cross-platform Internet Explorer and Firefox enjoy market shares of 78 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

“The Mac’s market share is great, but we want to grow, and, in order to do that, we have to create a version of Safari on Windows,” Jobs said during his keynote.

Those are the type of plans that tend to get noticed within Microsoft headquarters, notes JupiterResearch vice president and research director Michael Gartenberg. “I fully expect some sort of a response from Redmond,” he said. “We are definitely looking at another generation of browser wars. It was a brilliant tactical move on Apple’s part.”

For its part, Apple thinks the browser will be a popular addition to the Windows world.

“What we know is that people will love an innovative browser,” said Brian Croll, Apple’s senior director of software product marketing. “We think it will be really popular on Windows.”

As for the day’s headliner, Leopard got the sneak-peek treatment from Jobs this year, just like it did for the 2006 developers conference. And while Jobs previewed several new features—chiefly, a redesigned Desktop and new Finder —his presentation also recapped many of the enhancements first introduced in August 2006.

Analysts who watched the keynote weren’t put off by the repeat performance. “This is a case where we saw a good deal of the story last year, but Apple has done a really good job in updating the overall look and feel of the OS,” Gartenberg said. “You can’t have the same tired look and at the same time you have to drive the technology forward—it’s a balancing act.”

Much of the motivation behind the updated look-and-feel appears to be simplifying organization. That’s the motivation behind Stacks, an addition to the Desktop that helps users keep their workspace free of clutter by allowing them to group files and documents together in the Dock.

“This is one of those features that once you start using it, you won’t stop,” Apple’s Croll said. “That was really the thing we were trying to do — make an elegant Desktop and make it really easy to use.”

Apple’s Finder has been overhauled adding several new features including the ability to find other Macs on a local network. In addition to being able to login to the remote Mac, users can also share the screen—a feature included in Apple Remote Desktop. But that desktop management app isn’t going to be discontinued or downplayed, although the new Finder feature is utilizing some of the same technologies.

“This technology is really focused on screen sharing,” Croll said. “Apple Remote Desktop has a wealth of other features.”

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