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Apple's iPad secrecy leaves many developers handicapped

An elite group of software developers afforded early access to the iPad must provide photographic evidence that they've complied with a stringent set of requirements before Apple hands one over, but for everyone else, authoring software for the upcoming device can prove to be a shot in the dark.

That's according to BusinessWeek, which is the latest publication to serve up a profile on the secrecy that surrounds Apple's products, even those that have been announced and stand just weeks away from making their way into the hands of its customers. The iPad is a classic example.

According to the report, the select few developers who've seen their requests for an iPad granted must swear to harbor the pre-production units by locking them to an immovable object in an isolated room where all of its windows are completely blacked-out. They must then sign and submit a more than 10-page non-disclosure agreement along with photographic evidence that they've met all the provisions set forth in the document, which include the secret room.

The lengths these developers must go to may seem extreme, but they come with their share of rewards, namely a competitive edge over thousands of their peers who've pleaded with Cupertino-based electronics maker for similar access to test their upcoming applications on the actual device to no avail.

For instance, Evernote, which authors software that helps users organize, store and search through their documents, was amongst those turned down by Apple for an iPad prototype to test their upcoming application for the device. As such, its development team created a cardboard mockup of the iPad to help it make an educated guess at certain aspects of the iPad, like knowing where a user's thumbs will naturally rest and how the device's multi-touch screen responds to certain real-life gestures.

It's nuances like those that can't be evaluated with precision using Apple's iPhone Software Developers Kit, which is still arguably one of the most complete and cutting-edge development environments offered by a modern day high-tech firm. It bundles a simulator for Macs that displays applications in windows that mimic the displays screens of iPhones, iPods and iPads, substituting a mouse cursor for the user's finger.

Also denied an early crack at the iPad were movie-viewing app maker Flixter and game maker Digital Chocolate, which is run by Trip Hawkins, a former marketing lead at Apple who left to start gaming powerhouse Electronics Arts. "We asked for the iPad many times and got nowhere," he said.

That raises the question as to which developers have actually seen their requests for an iPad met by Apple. BusinessWeek offers no answers to this end, but cites a chief executive of a company that manages relationships with third-party developers as suggesting the company is choosing top software publishers who may have otherwise been hesitant to embrace the App Store ecosystem.