Apple drops NDA for iPhone developers

Apple announced Wednesday morning via a posting on the front page of its iPhone developer site that it has decided to discontinue the non-disclosure agreement preventing developers from discussing iPhone programming.

The statement on Apple’s site, addressed “To Our Developers,” said that the company had originally put the NDA in place to protect Apple’s inventions and innovations from being stolen by others. But the company acknowledged that the result had placed too much of a burden on developers and “others interested in helping further the iPhone’s success.” Apple went on to thank all those who provided constructive feedback on the matter.

Many iPhone developers had been openly critical of the NDA, regarding it as Apple tying their hands behind their back by denying them access to a critical resource: their fellow programmers. So it’s little surprise that the news that Apple was dropping the restrictions was met with enthusiastic responses from the iPhone development community.

Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, maker of the popular game Tap Tap Revenge, said his company’s developers were delighted about the news. “This should make it a lot easier for our developers to talk to others in the iPhone developer community, which will result in better software and faster development cycles.”

Decrem also sees the removal of the NDA as a positive step for the platform as a whole. “This will also have an impact on the ecosystem over the longer term: higher quality software, more documentation, and more competition, as new developers join the platform once more developer documentation becomes available.”

Other developers were positive on the news as well. “It’s about time!” said Brian Greenstone, President of Pangea Software. Producer Bruce Morrison of Freeverse Software remarked “I just hope now the iPhone community can come together to help each other freely.”

Brent Simmons of NewsGator, developer of NetNewsWire, likened the NDA to flying blind. “Now it’s as if we can suddenly see the sky and the clouds and the ground—and we can talk to other pilots.”

“Removing the NDA is great news for iPhone developers,” Simmons went on to say. “As a Mac developer, I’m so used to looking to the Web and other developers when I wonder about the best way to do something.” Simmons said that he expected to see numerous tutorials and tips show up around the Web dedicated to helping other developers. “It’ll be a great demonstration of how the Mac development community does things.”

The Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry echoed Simmons’s sentiments. “Basically, it makes life easier for a developer. We can all rely on shared experiences: I don’t have to figure out something that some other developer already has.”

Hockenberry, the developer of popular Twitter application Twitterrific, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the NDA, and naturally one of the most excited about the agreement’s removal. Shortly after the removal of the NDA was announced, he had already posted a piece on his blog detailing his solution to a tricky development issue.

“The people who will benefit most from this move are the developers new to the platform,” said Hockenberry. “There are a lot of people coming from Java, Windows Mobile and Palm that are hungry for information. Being able to buy a book and talk with other developers will help them immensely.”

Another vocal developer, Fraser Speirs of Connected Flow, which makes Flickr browser Exposure, said that the removal of the NDA “shows Apple cares and is listening.” Last month, Speirs said that he would be halting his company’s iPhone development because of Apple’s lack of transparency in the App Store approval process.

While Speirs said that news of the NDA’s lifting has made him “a lot happier about being part of the future of iPhone development,” he still has reservations. “It doesn’t fix the problem of App Store rejections. This was my big beef and Apple still has to do something on that.”

Craig Hockenberry agrees with Speirs. “[The review process] seems to be taking longer as time goes on. It appears that Apple is overwhelmed by the success of the platform and they need to adapt their processes to deal with the flood of submissions.”

Both Speirs and Hockenberry think Apple still needs to work on a pre-approval process for applications, so that developers don’t end up putting a lot of work into programs that are ultimately rejected. But both also agree that Apple will likely address that issue as well.

"The best thing about this announcement is that it shows Apple is listening to us," said Hockenberry. "It gives us all confidence that our other concerns will be addressed over time.”

Apple said it will issue a new agreement to developers covering released software that will not contain the NDA clauses. Software and features that Apple has not yet released, such as future versions of the iPhone Software Development Kit, will continue to be confidential until their release.

“I don’t see the caveat about 'unreleased' software being a big deal,” said Craig Hockenberry, pointing out that similar restrictions have long governed developers' access to Mac OS X. “I think this is actually a good thing, since 'unreleased' APIs tend to change.”

The full details, however, will have to wait until the new agreement makes its way to developers. But for now, the mood in the iPhone development community is clearly celebratory.

“I’ve marked October 1st on my calendar as NDA Lifting Day—set to repeat yearly, like a holiday,” said NewsGator’s Simmons. “It’s that cool.”

This story was updated at 2:54PM Eastern with reactions from developers.

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