Thursday, September 9, 2010

App Store Changes

Apple has issued a statement saying that they are relaxing sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2, and 3.3.9 of the iOS Developer Program License Agreement. Theoretically, Flash-based apps are now allowed, although Apple reserves the right to ban apps that “rapidly” drain the battery. More importantly, it is once again possible to use interpreters, alternative languages, frameworks, and developer tools. This is excellent news, although it’s important to note that it’s basically a reversal of the damage done in April, rather than an improvement over the status quo ante. By my interpretation of the guidelines, useful apps like Briefs are still forbidden because the interpreted code is not bundled into the app. iOS remains a restricted platform for developers.

They’ve also published the App Store Review Guidelines, though you’ll have to join the iOS developer program and pay $99 to read the official copy. John Gruber calls attention to some of the more interesting rules. I see this, along with Apple’s insistence that it wants to be “more transparent,” as a small positive step. Most of these guidelines were already known, but it’s certainly valuable to have them written down. It remains to be seen whether anything will be different in practice. Apple can still make up rules as they go along and hold apps in limbo without rendering a verdict.

Also, some of the rules are scarier now that they’ve been made explicit. For example, no third-party browsers, no apps that “duplicate” apps that are already in the store, no apps that are simply “content aggregators,” and restrictions on commentary unless you’re a “professional political satirist.” Some rules remain unwritten: there’s no mention of the prohibitions for “limited audience” or competing with Apple’s built-in apps.

Lastly, there are some veiled threats such as “If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.” Adam Engst writes:

Shining a light on situations like this is exactly what the press should be doing—the public does not have a right to know everything about Steve Jobs’s private life, but knowing that Apple is rejecting political satire from the App Store is absolutely in the public interest.

I continue to agree with Jesper about the bottom line:

I don’t think it’s unfair for Apple to have a list of the applications produced for its platform that it believes is decent and upstanding, and which it is proud to be associated with. I just don’t think that that list should be the same as the list of all applications that can run, ever.

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There is actually a lot of stuff that has gone beyond what existed, some of it giving more freedom than has existed at any point. 3.3.1 has mostly gone back to exactly what it was before iOS 4 and 3.3.9 has toned down the language, but keeps the user consent parts. But the big changes are in 3.3.2.

At no point up until now has Apple allowed in the licence the dynamic loading of non Apple code (through frameworks or plugins). They also haven't allowed you to run interpreted code (bar Javascript in WebKit) without prior written permission, and even then it may only be used for providing minor functionality. Basically it allowed you to add a few scripts that ran.

With the new 3.3.2 text there is nothing preventing this, simply the downloading and installing of executable code or the downloading of interpreted code. Theoretically you can now have frameworks (previously unavailable), structure your app as a series of plugins (provided new plugins cannot be added by users) or even build your app using something such as MacRuby or PyObjC. Essentially, as long as an app doesn't allow users to download stuff that wasn't in the bundle shipped to Apple, you can use whatever you like to make it.

[...] with the changes to sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2, and 3.3.9, Apple still doesn’t like Briefs. The core issue seems to be that Apple considers the user [...]

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