by Tom Kaneshige

Apple Relaxes App Store Rules: Going Soft or Playing Safe?

Sep 09, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Why did secrecy-loving Apple release App Store approval guidelines for developers? Fear of government oversight may be one reas

Apple’s rigid ways and paranoid ideas about secrecy have led to confusion among iPhone and iPad app developers. Even Apple’s own employees toil in a cloak-and-dagger corporate world where the latest projects are covered with black cloth and specially-worded memos ferret out leakers.

Of course, Apple’s methods have also led to record-breaking earnings during the Great Recession and product announcements that mirror rock concerts.

This week, however, it seems Apple has softened its stance. Apple published guidelines that reveal how Apple determines an app’s inclusion into the App Store. These guidelines are available only to developers who have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Apple.

The guidelines “will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store,” Apple said in a statement. Apple is also “relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code.” Apple has formed an App Review Board that will let app developers appeal app rejections.

All of this represents a major shift in Apple’s way of thinking. Critics have blasted Apple over Apple’s lack of transparency in the app approval process. At one point, the heavy-handed Apple decided overnight to drop apps that it deemed overtly sexual, in a move known as the infamous bikini ban.

Never mind that these apps had already been approved by Apple. Or that developers weren’t told ahead of time. Or the fact that apps from big brands that seemed to violate the new criteria, such as Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit app, were safe from the ban.

So why is Apple making itself more transparent now? Odds are that someone inside Apple got wise to the government’s growing interest in Apple’s ban of Adobe Flash on the iPhone and iPad. At issue is whether or not the ban kills competition by shackling programmers from using third-party developer tools.

With Apple’s latest announcements, “Apple is getting ahead of the problem of receiving a lot more government oversight,” says analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. “It’s better to get ahead of the problem because getting the government uninvolved is an impossible task.”

Another reason Apple published guidelines that make the app approval process less cryptic probably has to do with the rise of the iPhone’s top competitor, Android. Apple’s guidelines are an attempt to stop the bleeding of developers to the Android App Store.

On the upside, iOS developers make more money on the Apple App Store than the Android App Store, says Enderle. Apple App Store has a greater number of paid apps being sold, whereas free apps dominate the Android App Store. Also, Apple’s iAd brings revenue to developers.

But Apple still can’t stop being Apple. The new guidelines are only available to developers who sign an NDA. “These guidelines should be publicly available,” Enderle says, adding that the guidelines will eventually be leaked on the Web.

So why did Apple even bother with an NDA? “It showcases a conflict between the old Apple and the new Apple,” Enderle says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at