Apple Says Uncle to Developers -- and Adobe and Google

Last Updated Sep 9, 2010 5:54 PM EDT

Apple (AAPL) has taken on one of the more contentious issues app developers have had with the company. For some time, many developers have been upset over the inability to understand what might keep an app from being approved for sale and the restrictions Apple placed on how developers could write code; now Apple appears to have relaxed those limits.

It's a huge change and underscores how much competitive turbulence CEO Steve Jobs sees ahead, and just how much of an inroad Google (GOOG) has made with Android. It also means that Adobe (ADBE) ultimately wins the most important part of the long-standing conflict it has with Apple and that Google AdMob can now operate freely on iOS device apps.

The change in the iOS developer agreement that caused the greatest concern occurred in April. At that time, developers learned that Apple would ban apps written in tools intended for cross-compiling so programmers could write once and run on multiple platforms. That meant no Adobe-generated apps, even if they were recompiled into something that would run on an iPhone or iPad. Apple's big change today backed away from these restrictions came in a press release:

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.In addition, for the first time we are publishing the App Store Review Guidelines to help developers understand how we review submitted apps. We hope it will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store.
You can see the current version of the iOS developer agreement and look at sections. Here's the old wording of section 3.1.1:
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).
And here's the new wording of the section:
Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs.
You can see a more extensive comparison of the language, including how restrictions against programming frameworks (a basic structure for writing applications) and interpreted code (which would let an iOS- or Android- or Windows Phone 7-specific engine run the same application) are now out. There's even some relaxation on collecting data from users that again makes room for Google AdMob.

In addition, Apple plans to post the iOS app review guidelines. This has been a long source of frustration for developers, who had to guess why the company might reject an app. Given that developers must agree to only sell apps through Apple (a condition that hasn't changed, by the way), it made developing an app a more risky business proposition.

I don't think Apple had a choice in any of this. Android is taking market share quickly, and eventually programmers want to cover the biggest platforms. Trying to lock them in only works when you can write off the alternatives. That's getting to be impossible with Android devices. There is also attention Apple has received from regulators concerned about competition. By allowing a more streamlined approach to multi-platform development, the company has reduced the chance that any official body would take action.

In May, I suggested five steps Apple could take to put off criticism. Today Apple checked off points 2 and 3. I think the company could still do well by addressing retail exclusivity on apps, but this is a smart and effective start that might reduce pressure enough to keep it from having to take that next step. And it's certainly more than enough to get Adobe and Google both dancing a victory jig.

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Image: Flickr user acaben, CC 2.0. Editing: .
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.