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Apple's new Xcode 4 could portend new HTML5 development tools

Apple's newly minted Xcode 4 integrated development tool reflects a strong investment in building software designed to create new software, particularly for the iPhone and iPad. Developers say it could also signal a new push into Adobe's territory, if Apple delivers a similar development environment aimed at building HTML5 web content.

Xcode 4 was previewed at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this summer. The company just recently released a fresh private beta of Xcode 4 to all of its developers. The newly revamped workflow helps developers organize the code and supporting files that make up the applications they ship for Mac OS X and iOS devices, integrates graphical interface layout tools with coding windows, and incorporates document version control to track changes over time.

Appleinsider featured the major new changes in Xcode 4 when it first arrived. Developers note, however, that the resources Apple is pushing into its development tools, in large part due to the wild success of the iPhone App Store, will make it easy for the company to reuse its efforts to deliver solutions for parallel development tasks.

One example of how the company's significant investments in creating Xcode 4 could be applied is in shipping a web development tool aimed at creating HTML5 content for the web and for use within web-based tools such as Apple's iAd mobile advertising program, digital books and web apps targeted at iPad, and its iTunes LP and iTunes Extras content.

Much of the dynamic interactive content now being created for advertising, digital publishing, or media bonus content is built in Adobe Flash Professional, simply because Adobe has delivered the graphical tools intended to help designers to create such content without having to manually edit the web's HTML, JavaScript and CSS files. Adobe has been relatively slow to embrace HTML5 however, only adding basic support to its Dreamweaver web development tool.

If Apple leveraged the Xcode 4 work it has already completed (and has paid for as part of its investment in fostering iOS App Store and Mac software) to target HTML5 development, it would propel the company past other fledgling efforts to serve the tremendous latent demand for an integrated web development tool, and could establish the company as a premiere source for web creation tools.

On page 2 of 3: This all happened before.

This all happened before

The idea of Apple using its existing software to expand into new areas is nothing new. Apple filled a huge vacuum for native Mac OS X productivity tools with Keynote, purportedly designed in large measure to allow its chief executive Steve Jobs to create presentation slides.

The look and feel of Keynote was subsequently expanded with the Pages word processor and Numbers spreadsheet to deliver a suite of iWork apps. Apple just recently the suite ported to the iPad, where it now serves as the top selling productivity tools of what is now an iconically popular new tablet.

Apple has similarly built a suite of lifestyle apps in iLife, designed to create a digital hub for creating photos, movies, web pages and music designed to sell Macs. The company then reused the overall interface for its GarageBand music application to deliver Instruments (below), a development tool based on top of Sun's DTrace, a comprehensive dynamic tracing framework.

Instruments leveraged the time scrolling interface of GarageBand to make it graphically intuitive to monitor the performance of processes over time, their resource consumption, and so on.

Leopard Instruments

A third application Apple created and reused was iTunes itself. While distributed for free, iTunes was financed by the popularity of the iPod. Apple's success in selling iPods resulted in liberal investment in iTunes, enabling the software to quickly outpace the company's other apps in sophistication and utility. The most notable contrast in good and bad software at Apple may have been iTunes versus the Finder.

By the time Apple shipped Mac OS X Leopard, the overall interface of iTunes was so refined that it made sense to simply reuse most of it to create a new Finder in order to replace the lagging cruft that had been lingering since the release of Panther. From the new Finder's device, places and search listings to Cover Flow icon browsing, the Leopard Finder was able to get a major refresh by simply reusing much of the word created for iTunes.

On page 3 of 3: Xcode for web content.

Xcode for web content

Xcode 4 borrows from iTunes as well, from its content listings down to its faux-LCD display that presents status updates and progress feedback. The new development tool also presents some novel new elements, such as directly actionable path listings called the Jump Bar, which will likely find its way into other apps, including a future Finder.

Other integrated features, including support for browsing documents in Time Machine-like version control or the ability to compare the content of two documents, would also make sense to add to the Finder or to a new, standalone rich editing environment. And the most likely business model to target such an integrated document management tool at is the web.

Xcode 4 also integrates the graphical layout features of Interface Builder with its text-oriented programming tools. Apple already ships Dashcode (below), a tool intended for graphically creating Dashboard widgets and simple web applications targeted at Safari or the iPhone or iPad.

Leopard Dashcode

By similarly integrating this graphical tool into an Xcode 4-like environment (below) for building web content, the company could offer a strong rival to Flash Professional intended to build standards-based web content, without having to undertake a massive investment in building such a tool from scratch.

Xcode 4