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

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-09-09

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

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)."

Pressure from Android?


However, with Apple relaxing that restriction, developers are free to use the tools they want as long as the apps built do not download any code, the company said.

In a research note on the Apple news, Jefferies & Company wrote: "Can Flash now run on iPhones? No. AAPL specifically mentioned that restrictions continue for applications that require any third-party downloaded code. Thus, runtimes, such as Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight (MSFT, $23.93, Buy), continue to remain restricted on iPhones and iPads."

Moreover, Jefferies said Apple's reversal in stance may signal it is feeling pressure from the Google Android platform, which is open for developers.

"Apple's lifting of restrictions on developer tools used to create apps for iPhones/iPads is a modest positive for ADBE [Adobe], although the incremental impact to CS5 [Adobe Creative Suite 5] adoption is likely small," the Jefferies note said. "The bigger question is whether this change in stance is a precursor to ultimately allowing Flash on AAPL devices."

In an April 20 blog post, Adobe product manager Mike Chambers said:

"Essentially, this has the effect of restricting applications built with a number of technologies, including Unity, Titanium, MonoTouch, and Flash CS5. While it appears that Apple may selectively enforce the terms, it is our belief that Apple will enforce those terms as they apply to content created with Flash CS5. Developers should be prepared for Apple to remove existing content and applications (100+ on the store today) created with Flash CS5 from the iTunes store."

However, Jeff Haynie, CEO of Appcelerator, which makes the Titanium platform for building mobile applications, said Apple has issued a positive clarification to its terms of service that relaxes its restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps. Appcelerator believes this move provides a strong endorsement for developer innovation, reinforces Apple's long-term platform advantage and benefits consumers as the ultimate arbiters of quality in the App Store, Haynie said. 

"We're incredibly pleased with this morning's announcement, and we look forward to the innovation that Appcelerator Titanium developers will continue to bring to the Apple App Store," Haynie said.

This morning's announcement removes any remaining concerns regarding app approval, Haynie added.

Mike Sax, an iPhone app developer and founder of, told eWEEK: "It's great news. I think it's important to keep in mind that Apple has been blazing the path in making software as risk-free and accessible as media (music, video, etc). This is the best thing that has happened to software in a long time. If you're blazing the path, you will run into obstacles along the way. Apple is the first one to run into them, and clear them. The road may be bumpy, but ultimately Apple does what it takes to let iPhone users enjoy media and software in the most enjoyable way possible. That's good for users, developers and for Apple."

Todd Williams, vice president of technology at Genuitec, which makes the Eclipse-based MobiOne mobile Web development platform, said: "While we understand Apple's need to ensure security, we applaud the removal of their programming restrictions. Even though Genuitec's MobiOne product was not affected by the prior policy, enabling ISVs to build a wide variety of tools to support iOS, while providing developers freedom of technology choice, will only serve to expand the popularity of iOS as an application platform."

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