Apple releases App Store guidelines, announces Review Board

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In a surprising move, Apple on Thursday unveiled a sweeping set of changes to the way it handles submissions to the App Store. The move is a clear effort to address many of the criticisms that have been levied against the company since it launched the iOS developer program.

First up, Apple published the complete set of guidelines that its personnel uses to determine an app's eligibility for inclusion in the App Store.

The guidelines are accessible only to registered developers that have entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Apple. However, in an informally-worded press release, the company expressed hopes that the publication of the guidelines “will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store.”

In the same release, Apple also mentioned several changes to the agreement required of all developers who want to publish on the App Store. The company states that it is “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.”

Some of these changes appear to reverse a ban Apple began enforcing earlier this year on the use of third-party tools to develop apps for the App Store. Many interpreted the ban as a blatant knock against Adobe’s Flash platform, which Apple had shut out of its iOS platform both as a browser plug-in and as a development environment for building apps. But, with the policy apparently reversed, the only remaining restriction is that apps must be self-contained and not download external code (with the exception of JavaScript code executed using Apple's own Web-rendering engine, based on the open-source project WebKit).

Finally, Apple also revealed the formation of an App Review Board, with the goal of giving developers “the opportunity to appeal the rejection of an application if [they] believe that the functionality or technical implementation was misunderstood.”

This new board should help address the accusations often made about the arbitrariness of the app approval process by providing developers with a way to formally ask Apple to review a rejection, based on criteria that may not have been anticipated by the approval guidelines; that’s often been the source of embarrassment for the company.

Although it's too early to tell what the effect will be on the App Store ecosystem or approval process, the published guidelines and App Review Board signal a massive shift in the way Apple manages its relationship with iOS app developers. If properly managed, they should certainly improve the overall app submission process by giving developers broader control over how they build apps, as well as providing a more transparent approach to the App Store publication process.

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