Apple finally lays out App Store rules - and makes clear it's still in charge

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By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 10:25 PM

Apple is still keeping tight control over the universe of programs for the iPhone. But at least it's shedding a little more light on why some apps make it and others get left out.

That's the net effect of two unexpected moves from Apple on Thursday. First, it repealed a prohibition on developers converting software written for other smartphones to run on its iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Second, it finally documented the hitherto inscrutable rules governing whether a new program will make it into its App Store.

The changes take some of the risk out of developing programs for the Cupertino, Calif., company's mobile devices - the App Store is the only easy way for users to add non-Apple software to the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, so a rejection amounts to a death sentence for an iPhone app.

Although the revised rules give developers more room to work with, they leave enough space for Apple to reject a program for any reason it sees fit.

In other words: No, you're still not going to see Adobe's Flash Player running on the iPhone or the iPad anytime soon.

You might, however, see Flash games and applications show up on the iPhone faster. That's courtesy of a seemingly minor change announced in the third paragraph of Apple's short news release:

"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."

That wonky language will open the door for developers to convert Adobe Flash applications to run on the iPhone - not the same as the Flash Player running on the iPhone - using the tool kit Adobe shipped earlier this year. It should also be easier to convert programs written for Google's increasingly widely used Android operating system.

Translated from developer-speak, it means that Apple no longer demands an iPhone-first development policy. A software shop can ship a program for Android or any other smartphone operating system, see if it works, and then "port" it over to the iPhone - instead of having to write the application first for the iPhone and hope Apple approves it.

Another change in Apple's developer agreement will soften an in-app advertising policy, allowing developers who want to subsidize a free app with advertising revenue to use Google's AdMob service instead of Apple's iAds.

As for the "published" App Store Review guidelines, you need an Apple developer's log-in to read them. But a friend sent along the text of this 3,020-word document; it makes for some interesting reading.

Many of these rules are common-sense guidelines: An app can't crash, lie about its functions, steal a user's data, violate a user's privacy, encourage a user to harm other users, rely on internal iOS features that Apple hasn't documented for public use, and so on.

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