Apple makes two great iPhone moves

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The past few days have seen Apple make two incredibly positive strides when it comes to iPhone development. If you haven’t heard, last weekend the company limited App Store reviews to those who had downloaded the product in question. And Wednesday the company announced that the blanket secrecy agreement on iPhone development was being lifted.

Last week I wrote an article critical of Apple’s App Store filtering policies. So it’s only fair that I respond to these two positive moves by Apple with some praise: Thank you, Apple, for making both of these changes and responding to the concerns of your third-party iPhone developers.

When I posted the article last week, several people contacted me, wondering why I hadn’t also discussed the iPhone Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and the problems with user reviews on the iTunes store. The short version is, I felt that it was better to focus my article on the (still unresolved) App Store filtering policies rather than digress into various gripes about what Apple’s doing with iPhone development.

Yet, in my BBEdit 9 scratchpad window this morning, I noticed these two paragraphs, which I cut from my previous piece while I was writing it:

NDA. All iPhone development is secret. Each developer has to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which prevents them from discussing the details of iPhone development in public. And so far as I can tell, Apple has not provided any private online discussion facility for iPhone developers, either on the Web or via e-mail. This frustrates developers, for whom the sharing of information is critical when you’re figuring out how to write software for a brand-new platform.

App Store commenting. A minor issue that developers have been complaining about, but they’re right on: The comment system on iTunes makes sense for music albums, but not for software. Anyone can write a review, even if they’ve never used the software. Developers have no way to follow up with bug complaints, nor reply to complaints that are inaccurate. Items flagged as incorrect or unhelpful are never removed. It’s a complete mess.

In the past few days, Apple has addressed both of these concerns. (If I had put them in my article, I could have even pretended to take credit for it! Tough break. I guess Dan Moren can take the credit instead.)

Sure, there might be some room for quibbling—my colleague Peter Cohen, for example, advocates for a reset of App Store reviews. And I think Apple still needs to let developers respond to user reviews. But the general direction here is incredibly positive.

And users will see the benefits, too. On the review front, there will be fewer junk reviews for users to sort through on the store, which might improve the buying process somewhat. On the NDA front, though, the news is huge. Developers can now share insights and sample code with one another in public, as Twitterrific developer Craig Hockenberry did within minutes of the NDA being lifted. Sharing this knowledge means that iPhone apps can be built faster and with fewer bugs, which will lead to more productive engineers and, one would hope, more innovative programs on the iPhone platform.

Yes, the last shoe still needs to drop—namely, some clarity from Apple about how iPhone apps are accepted or rejected, so that developers can invest development resources with confidence. But in the past few days, Apple has shown that it’s listening to the feedback it’s been receiving and is willing to change its policies accordingly. That’s an extremely encouraging sign for the iPhone platform.

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