Apple surprised the industry on 9 September by issuing a statement regarding major changes to App Store policy.
As reported on TechRadar, Apple is "relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code," and has published App Store review guidelines, which Apple hopes will "make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps".
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It's unclear why Apple has made these changes, but online buzz about Apple capitulating to various parties seems wide of the mark. Apple isn't scared of Adobe, nor does it need Adobe technology on iOS.
Apple's statement has already been widely misunderstood as Apple allowing Flash on to the platform, but the reality is simply that Flash might now be usable as a development environment for iOS apps.
Nonetheless, this has been enough to, at the time of writing, boost Adobe's share price by ten percent; by contrast, Apple's remains stable. Nor is Apple scared of Android. While Android's marketshare is rising, much of this is due to its existence at the low end of the market, where Apple doesn't care to fight; and iOS devices remain hugely popular, highly profitable, and are also in a state of rapid growth.
TechRadar contributor Adam Banks posits that potential investigations by the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission into Apple's 'monopolistic' ways might have "resulted in a tactical rather than emotional change of heart," and there's likely some truth in that.
However, it's most likely that the bulk of Apple's shift is a developer issue, and while Apple calls its new guidelines a "living document", it's arguable that App Store submissions have been a living process from the very beginning.
Moving the goalposts
Apple's screwed up a number of times along the way regarding App Store submissions, but it's important to remember that Apple's not overstating things when it refers to the App Store as the "most important milestone in the history of mobile software", which brings with it an unprecedented level of work regarding curation and management.
Some argue curation shouldn't be necessary (hence the likes of OpenAppMkt providing an alternate means to get apps on to iOS devices), but approvals cut down on the likelihood of dangerous apps, along with potentially raising the bar for quality (albeit not as high as many people would like).
It's also clear that Apple is learning, even if the rate of change has been frustratingly slow. Little by little, common requests from developers have been taken on board, and now, finally, Apple is loosening up regarding development environments and the provision of guidelines.
"Developers will welcome this," reckons Matt Gemmell of Instinctive Code, creator of Favorites. "The main fear until now wasn't the restrictions themselves - many of which most of us would agree with - but the fact they were unknown. Decisions can only be 'capricious' if you can't account for their origin."
James Montgomerie, who was caught up in App Store rejection shenanigans with Eucalyptus, agrees with Gemmell, saying he's "heartened to see Apple laying out these rules frankly and clearly". Montgomerie adds that the document "still has several vague areas in it, but it's on the whole a great step forward, and removes a huge amount of unease."
Although Apple's guidelines increase transparency regarding App Store reviews, it's also very clear Apple hasn't opened the doors to all and sundry - the App Store isn't suddenly a free-for-all. The available documentation, which PCalc creator James Thomson rightly calls "fascinating - and occasionally hilarious - reading" is surprisingly candid and, at times, casual.
"We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps," is one of the bullet points; elsewhere, an argument is made regarding standards and not putting apps online just to impress your friends: "We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour".
For Gemmell, the emphasis on quality within the guidelines is welcome: "Knowing the rules Apple is using, and more importantly seeing that they're generally based on themes of preserving quality and minimising offence, should be a comfort to those considering deploying apps on the Store." He does note that the remainder of the announcement, regarding developer tools, is vague but "may presumably apply to third-party tools and frameworks," adding that the "impact of the 'Epic Citadel' demo from the recent Apple event was no doubt a factor in this equally welcome change to policy."
Bob Koon of Binary Hammer is a little concerned by this particular change, arguing that the "already giant App Store can't handle an infusion of purely non-native apps," but Montgomerie counters, believing that "apps should be judged on quality, not on how they were developed". On this subject, Thomson adds that it should "remove a lot of uncertainty around certain technology," and implies we might now see an increase in third-party app-development tools for iOS.
Whatever the outcome, everyone must remember that Apple is still Apple. "It's important to note that Apple's list isn't exhaustive," says Thomson. "Even if you comply with everything, you could still get rejected for something else that's not been considered or documented yet."
However, developers are largely excited by Apple's announcement, even if they were already using Apple's own tools. "It's not that I'm going to stop using Xcode any time soon, and neither of Apple's changes affects me directly," says Thomson.
"But they make me feel a whole lot better about developing for the platform, so from Apple's perspective, it's mission accomplished."