Apple Backs Off on Tool Restrictions, but It May Be Too Early for Hallelujahs

Apple relaxes the restrictions it had on the tools developers can use to build applications for its iPhone and App Store. However, some wonder whether it is enough when the more open Android platform is fast on Apple's heels.

Apple has announced that it has relaxed some of the restrictions the company previously had on tools developers could use to create applications for its App Store, bringing joy to some circles in the mobile development community.

Yet, while some developers sing a collective "hallelujah," others are asking whether Apple has gone far enough in opening up its policies-particularly when competing platforms such as Android are open and thriving.

Apple's restrictions led to backlash from the developer community and prompted some to write off building apps for the platform. Indeed, one developer, Lee Brimelow, a platform evangelist at Adobe, told Apple to go screw itself in a blog post. Apple's restrictive policies were part of a bitter feud that raged between Apple and Adobe earlier this year over the viability of Adobe's Flash and whether it should run on Apple's iOS. Apple CEO Steve Jobs even stepped in to diss Flash.

However, Apple has listened to developer dissent and taken notice. In a statement released Sept. 9, Apple said:

""We are continually trying to make the App Store even better. We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. 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."In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.""

"There was a lot of pressure on Apple to review these parts of the program license, and it is encouraging that they have changed their mind," said Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at IDC. "There was a lot of developer pressure and negativity around the restrictions because they in principle disallowed many technologies that involve virtual machine implementations that are a common architectural construct today in modern programming languages. With these restrictions, it would have been impossible to port Java apps or .NET apps, for example, amongst many other things, to the iPhone.

"What is more, the rules were not evenly applied and no one could confirm that there weren't apps in the App Store that violated these restrictions. What is even more, I suspect that government probing or fear of it was a factor in this, but also the increasingly more competitive mobile platform space and the success of Android were likely factors."

Mark Driver, an analyst at Gartner, concurs. "This is clearly a reaction to significant developer complaints, and also clearly a reaction to growing momentum among Android developers," he said.

In particular, Apple's restrictive Apple's Clause 3.3.1, which irked many developers, read:

""Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).""