In a development absolutely nobody had predicted (counter-examples welcome in the comments, but I’ll believe it when I see it), Apple has reversed its decision to ban apps based on Flash from the iOS App Store. In a statement released a few minutes ago, the company sounds as near to contrite as anything I’ve ever heard from within the Jobs compound:
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.
It would be childish to describe this as a “climb-down” or “cave-in” (yes, you, every tech site), but it does appear to be a complete removal of the restriction on apps created using Adobe’s Flash Packager, as well as other tools that work in a similar way.
On the other hand, the timing makes “We have listened to our developers” seem disingenuous. Developers screamed very loudly about the ban within minutes. There were several days of intense Apple-bashing about it. Given the lack of a formal announcement (the changes to the developer agreement trickled out in an unheralded update) and the ambiguity of the wording, Apple could have responded immediately without losing much face, issuing a prompt clarification that the new clauses weren’t intended to preclude Flash-based apps.
But it didn’t. Instead, Steve responded with a justification of the decision, specifically explaining why Flash-based apps were a bad thing and mustn’t be allowed.
There is, of course, another factor in Apple’s deliberations. Following the original release of the revised guidelines, sources as reliable as the New York Post (yeah) reported that the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission were arguing over who should investigate Apple’s monopolistic shenanigans. This doesn’t ever seem to have been officially confirmed, but is it possible that rumblings behind the scenes, or even informal discussions, might have resulted in a tactical rather than emotional change of heart?
Whatever. Anyone who’s looking at producing iOS apps and wants the maximum flexibility in doing so will welcome the new position. Any publisher with piles of Adobe InDesign content that they’d like to turn into magazine apps for the iPod touch, iPhone and, especially, iPad, but without a team of iOS developers, can now start their engines (rather than only wondering which of the pre-packaged newsstand platforms, such as Pixel Mags or Zinio, to partner with – though there’s nothing to prevent them trying both approaches).
What Apple has done at the same time is to lift the veil of secrecy from App Store approvals, publishing its App Store guidelines in full for the first time. Developers (and remember all you need to be an iOS developer is a Mac and $99) can now get a much clearer idea why their apps might or might not be accepted; and Apple still reserves the right to reject apps that simply aren’t good enough.
There’s no justification, therefore, for assuming that either the average or the minimum quality of iOS apps will fall as a result of permitting Flash. Yes, more bog-standard Flash games may be ported to Apple devices and submitted to the App Store. They may or may not get approved.
Meanwhile, maybe a few decent apps will be created that never would have been if iOS development was limited to proper programmers.
Right, I’m off to fire up Creative Suite 5…