Apple's App Store approval policy has dumbfounded mobile app developers for years, but that's about to change. On Thursday, Apple handed mobile developers a fig leaf in the form of a surprise statement that promised it would be more transparent about its App Store approval process. Apple also said it would loosen restrictions on tools used by developers to build apps for its mobile devices -- the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
Many software developers have complained that Apple has mysterious denied their apps from inclusion in the iTunes App Store or griped that their iPhone app was mysteriously removed.
Apple Publishes App Review Guidelines
Apple's statement said: "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."
It's unclear whether this will translate into more apps being approved that may have otherwise been blocked. But it does suggest a much greater level of transparency by Apple. Apple has been notorious for its censorship of things such as political satire, celebrity cartoons, and porn. One of the biggest complaints software developers, and companies, have voiced is that Apple has given no feedback as to why an app has been denied or booted from the App Store.
Apple Allows Other iPhone Development Tools
In another surprise move, Apple announced it is "relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps" and "publishing app review guidelines."
Apple's move to loosen rules on the tools software developers use addresses a feud sparked earlier this year when the company forbid the use of private frameworks - or application programming interfaces (APIs) - and discouraged developers from using documented, public APIs in manner not approved by Apple.
The move was sparked when Adobe released tools for making apps for the iPhone that allowed developers to use Flash as a development platform to create native applications for iPhone and iPad. Apple struck back by changing its iOS Developer Program license to essentially say that if mobile application developers wanted to publish software for the iPhone or iPad, they had to use Apple's Objective-C-based tools.
Application developers were angry because the restrictions limited their ability to use other software development tools, such as those made by Adobe, that would allow for cross-platform development of mobile games and applications. Using Adobe's tools, for example, would mean a game developer would be able to publish once a game that runs on Apple's iOS, Flash, or the Android OS. Android's latest update, 2.2, runs a version of Flash and is already available in phones such as the Droid Incredible.
It's unclear to what extent Apple has loosed the guidelines on what tools developers can use. But the move is a clear sign Apple is softening its hard-line stance.
Why the Change of Tune?
What's behind Apple's policy change? In a word, Android.
Google's mobile operating system, Android OS, is used in a growing number of mobile devices and threatens Apple. According to a market forecast by IDC, by 2014 Android will own 25 percent of the global smartphone market, making it the number two mobile OS. Android will be followed by BlackBerry, Apple, and Windows Mobile, with the Symbian OS owning 33 percent of the mobile device operating system market.
Apple needs to make peace with application developers who are thinking of defecting to the fast-growing Android OS. Apple's App Store, with 250,000 apps, may dwarf the number of apps available in the Android Market, but Android's open ecosystem allows you to install anything you want.