Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) released a new version of the Safari web browser yesterday. Somewhat lost in the coverage of the new iPhone, it's a major update to an important piece of software. Safari 5 is really good, but the Cupertino gang messed up the marketing message.
Full speed ahead
First off, Apple makes some dubious performance claims. Safari 5 is rightly described as faster than Mozilla Firefox and the mainstream version of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Chrome. Some fancy new code under Safari's hood has boosted the browser's speed significantly, especially when you're loading programmatically challenging sites like Gmail.
Kudos; job well done. But Safari is still lagging far behind Chrome's bleeding-edge version by a fair margin, according to independent testing. If browsing speed is all you want, Safari is a fine choice but not the pinnacle of achievement. Also note that Apple doesn't even mention Internet Explorer in these comparisons; Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) had better shape up with the next version of its still-dominant web browser, or else the drawn-out death of that platform is guaranteed to continue.
That's just the appetizer
OK, so omitting a faster competitor is a minor quibble, especially since the faster Chrome version could be less stable than the program Apple just outperformed. Fair enough.
The bigger issue here is the way Apple praises HTML5 as the savior of the web -- much to the chagrin of Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE ) and its Flash platform -- while also undermining the very principles that make HTML5 a game-changer.
Apple provides a neat showcase of what Safari's HTML5 support can do, just one click away from the browser's download page. So far, so good. But you're not allowed to compare and contrast the demos with other browsers; any attempt to do so is met by a curt, "You'll need to download Safari to view this demo." And in most cases, that's a bald-faced lie.
The same HTML5 toys are available on a developer-oriented version of the same page, where most of them run just fine in other modern browsers like Chrome or Firefox. I get that it's a marketing ploy, and Apple wants to encourage you to download Safari 5. Still, there's no need to lie about it. Call a spade a spade, and be done with it.
Digging a hole
Saying that you really, truly need Safari to run something that works just fine elsewhere is worse than a misguided marketing effort. Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard says that "HTML5 is in a dangerous place since everyone wants to own it, but everyone is in a different place in terms of support or even what it means."
In other words, if Apple really wants its favorite new standard to be all that it can be, the company should get behind the community effort to define what HTML5 is. Flash was always meant to give programmers a cross-platform medium for advanced digital media, including online video, animation, and typography control. HTML5 does many of the same things, only backed by a cross-industry consortium rather than a single company. The idea is to keep the Internet open, easy to use, and technologically advanced enough to keep up with the changing expectations of both users and programmers. That just won't work if a major player like Apple starts playing games with the process.
What it all boils down to
The HTML working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is co-chaired by Apple, Microsoft, and IBM (NYSE: IBM ) , and the HTML5 effort runs under Ian Hickson of Google. It just won't do to have dissension in the ranks at this high a level. I mean, Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) and Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR ) fight to the death over networking business deals, but you won't find them claiming that some demo or common networking task will work only through their routers.
What I'm trying to say is, Ethernet networking is a solid standard, and HTML5 should emulate that model. That includes Apple putting its back into the effort instead of digging pitfalls for the entire effort. All it takes is some honest labeling of Apple's marketing projects. The Cupertino crew is better than this.
Is Apple laying traps at its own feet, or is it all just standard business practice? Go to the comments box below and start the discussion -- it works in any browser you'd like to use.