This came a quite a shock to me, since it seems so impervious to the wailing of developers and consumers alike, but Apple announced today via an official press release that it would be relaxing some of its iOS development restrictions. In a move toward greater transparency, it’ll also publish its App Store Review Guidelines for the first time.
To quote Apple:
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.
Sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 of the iOS Developer Program license focused on using third-party tools to develop iPhone applications. One very noteworthy example of such a tool was Adobe’s Flash to iPhone packager, which it created to allow Flash developers access to the lucrative iOS market.
Adobe’s website lists the packager product as being dead in the water, likely due to the original introduction of Apple’s restrictions in April 2010. It remains to be seen whether Adobe will resume development of the tool or if the company prefers to stay away now that it’s been burned before. On the other hand, appealing to cross-platform devs is a very good thing for Adobe.
So long as Adobe does continue its work with the app packager, this is great news for Flash developers. Cross-platform development is always a sticky mess, but tools like Adobe’s iOS packager take a lot of the sting out of the process, making it much easier to broaden the appeal of your product while keeping costs down. It keeps the door open for easier cross-platform development between iOS and Android, which is bound to be high on dev wish lists in the near future.
The second revelation of the press release is the pulling back of the review process curtain:
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.
Anyone who’s either had an app rejected themselves or who’s read about that frustrating experience will welcome this change. Apple’s often inscrutable policies regarding what does and what doesn’t get posted for sale in the App Store have been confusing, and often cause for complaint. In contrast, the newly-published Guidelines are surprisingly concise, covering only a little over six pages worth of material, and are essentially listed in bullet form organized around categories.
The document begins with an explanation of the basic tenets of the review process. Essentially, Apple lays out that it has kids in mind, doesn’t want any more fart apps, doesn’t want amateurish efforts, and will reject anything that goes “over the line” (which it claims reviewers will know when they see it). It also points out that a Review Board is in place, and that complaining to press outlets doesn’t help your case in this regard. Finally, it concludes that the Guidelines represent a living document, so it can essentially be changed at will in response to new situations.
The tone is almost defensive in a number of places, almost bullying in others, and in general, very conversational. It makes the Guidelines seem much less like a straightforward list document, and much more like a concerted effort on Apple’s part to compel developer cooperation and silence. Still, it also does what it claims, and it’s good to have a resource on the books to go to whenever developers cry foul.
It also means developers will have far less cause to cry foul in the first place. A careful examination of the guidelines document should make it much more clear how likely an app is to be approved at the concept stage, allowing studios and devs to make much more informed decisions about which projects they decide to take on. That should lead to less wasted money and effort, and to more apps of higher quality making it to the App Store intact.