Thousands of applications in the app store faced the prospect of being banned if and when Apple chose to enforce its rules and companies that made software to make mobile development easier, like Unity Technologies, Ansca Mobile, and Rhomobile, wondered whether they had a future making iOS development software.
On Thursday, Apple changed course and decided to remove the restrictions that had generated so many complaints from developers. "We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart," the company said in a statement. "Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year."
The new contractual language not only appears to allow developers to use pretty much any programming tool, including Adobe Flash Packager for iPhone, but it also appears to allow the use of third-party advertising and analytics services, such as Google's AdMob.
An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the meaning of the change.
But Adobe likes what it sees in the new contractual terms. "We are encouraged to see Apple lifting its restrictions on its licensing terms, giving developers the freedom to choose what tools they use to develop applications for Apple devices," a company spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.
The new rules will not bring the Flash platform to the iPhone, but apps created in Flash and translated using Adobe's Flash Packager for iPhone can now be judged on their merits rather than their technology.
Apple's statement does not mention whether government investigations in the U.S. and Europe into the company's developer and advertising restrictions, launched in response to complaints from Adobe and developers, figured into its decision to relax its rules.
But regardless of the company's motivation, the turnabout is remarkable given that Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated explicitly in April that third-party developer tools produce sub-standard apps and limit the speed at which developers can adopt new Apple platform technologies (even if Apple's secretiveness contributes to that delay).
"We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform," Jobs wrote.
Though a cynical reading of Apple's change of heart might see it as an embrace of low-quality apps, newly published developer guidelines show that's not the case. Apple has actually provided concrete guidance, for first time, about the kinds of apps it will and won't accept. This is something developers have been asking for since the App Store began accepting third-party apps.
Apple's guidelines finally state what developers have long understood, that the company considered speech in apps to be different from speech in books or songs.
"We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate," the guidelines state. "If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store."
The tone of the document is uncharacteristically straight-forward. The company states flatly that it doesn't need any more fart applications or apps that look like they were cobbled together by amateurs.
At the same time, Apple acknowledges the impossibility of providing a bright line between what is and isn't acceptable content, invoking former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity -- I know it when it see it -- to clarify the company's approach to banning apps.
Fans of the old Apple, the one that sues bloggers for publishing trade secrets and urges investigators to search the homes of those it believes possess stolen Apple property, shouldn't despair that the company has gone soft. One of its guidelines confirms that the company continues to prefer for secrecy over public dialogue on issues that affect its public image.
"If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to," Apple's guidelines state. "If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."
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