Apple has announced two changes in the terms and conditions in place for its iOS developer community, which are likely to significantly impact the way in which developers can work with the platform. Firstly, it said it will publish the review guidelines for its App Store approvals process, enabling developers to understand how products are assessed – the process has previously been criticised for its opaque nature. In addition, Apple said that it will relax the restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any additional code – Apple said that “this should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.”
Apple’s App Store approvals process has been widely criticised because of the lack of guidance or feedback provided to developers, making submission something of a hit-or-miss undertaking. In contrast, Google’s Android Market has little restriction placed on products – although this approach has been criticised for going too-far in the opposite direction. Apple’s current system may be a good, workable compromise: impose rules, but do so through a clear, fair and transparent process.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for the developer community is that by supporting third-party application creation tools again, it will be easier to create products which can be run across different operating platforms, including iOS alongside Android, BlackBerry and Symbian OS. The previous rules meant that iOS developers were effectively required to create products for the platform separately from other variants using Apple-approved tools, adding additional complexity to the product creation process.
The change in developer tools support also goes some way to bringing Adobe’s Flash technology into the fold, although not completely. Developers will now be able to use Flash to create products for the iOS, as long as it is then made available as a “packaged” application. The restriction on apps downloading additional code rules out the creation of iOS browsers with flash support, because this would entail additional code being downloaded by the software.
It was also reported that one of the clauses being amended by Apple is related to the collection of user data by third parties. This may pave the way for additional analytics tools to be deployed to monitor iPhone usage by advertising networks and publishers – as long as this does not breach user privacy. The previous wording was in some cases interpreted as a direct attack on Google’s AdMob ad network, which arguably could have sparked anti-competitive issues.
Apple said that its change of heart comes because it has “listened to [its] developers and taken much of their feedback to heart”. However, there are other important forces at play. Previously, it was widely reported that the US Federal Trade Commission has been investigating Apple’s actions, and the EU was also said to be exploring whether the company’s actions in limiting developer options breached competition rules. The latest moves may take some of the heat of the company in the medium term. And Android is already in the process of displacing iOS in the platform leagues, meaning that Apple needs to make life easier for developers in order to retain their support rather than complicating the process, as the less-controlled alternative gains traction.