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Thursday, September 09, 2010, 05:35 am PT (08:35 am ET)

Apple opens iOS to third-party dev tools, reveals approval guidelines

Apple on Thursday announced that it would no longer ban intermediary development tools for iOS as long as App Store software does not download any code, potentially paving the way for third-party software to convert applications from other formats like Adobe Flash.

In the statement, the company revealed that it had made "important changes" to sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 of its iOS Developer Program license, relaxing some of the restrictions that were put in place earlier this year. The company has also published the approval guidelines for its tightly controlled App Store, in which all software must be reviewed before it is released.

The changes come just weeks after evidence surfaced that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission was looking into a complaint from Adobe over Apple's banning of Flash from iOS devices. The FTC denied a public records request related to the case, stating that the release of such documents could interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Earlier this year, Apple updated its iOS 4 SDK to ban intermediary tools that would allow the porting of applications from Adobe's Flash, Sun's Java, or Microsoft's Silverlight/Mono.

The change was made after Adobe announced that its Creative Suite 5 would include an application that would allow developers to port their applications to the iPhone from Flash. Adobe eventually abandoned further development of the application following Apple's announcement. That was also when the company filed a complaint with the FTC.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs publicly commented on the matter in an open letter published in late April, in which he slammed Adobe Flash as a Web tool that is unfit for the modern, mobile era of computing. He also said that an intermediary tool for converting Flash applications to the iPhone would produce "sub-standard apps," and would hinder the progress of the platform.

At the time, Jobs said he knew from "painful experience" that allowing developers to become dependent on a third-party tool, such as Adobe Flash, rather than writing natively for the iPhone is restrictive. "We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers," Jobs wrote.

As for the publication of App Store approval guidelines, Apple has repeatedly come under fire for not being open enough with developers. Some who write for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch have complained that it is unclear what software is acceptable.

The most high-profile App Store review incident came in 2009, when Apple refused to approve the Google Voice application, a telephony service from the search giant. The matter was investigated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and Apple at the time denied that it had rejected the Google Voice app, but said it was continuing to "study it."

The full statement from Thursday is included in its entirety:

The App Store has revolutionized the way mobile applications are developed and distributed. With over 250,000 apps and 6.5 billion downloads, the App Store has become the world’s largest mobile application platform and App Store developers have earned over one billion dollars from the sales of their apps.

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.

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.

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.

The App Store is perhaps the most important milestone in the history of mobile software. Working together with our developers, we will continue to surprise and delight our users with innovative mobile apps.