The all-too contentious relationship between Apple the developers who build apps for the iPhone has gotten a little friendlier this morning with an announcement that Apple will drop the requirement that developers sign a Nondisclosure Agreement regarding the software. NDAs are, by their nature, threatening, awkward and unfriendly. Sometimes they are necessary but when concerning software that thousands of people are developing on – an NDA probably isn’t very realistic, either.
Many people expected the NDA to be lifted after the first Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. The Unofficial Apple Weblog said in June that “a source” told them it would be gone when the iPhone 2.0 software came out in July. The NDA just kept staying alive and even today’s announcement says the NDA remains in effect until a new contract is released in two weeks.
Developers have had to wrestle with Apple’s restrictions on app distribution, always running the risk that their work could be deemed too competitive with Apple’s own software and get kicked out of the iPhone store. Other developers live outside the law of iPhone Terms of Service and end up able to distribute their apps only to users willing to “jailbreak” their phones and nullify their warranties with Apple. (See our recent post Top 10 Apps Worth Jailbreaking Your iPhone to Get, for example.)
It’s a bizarre landscape that’s only tenable for now because the iPhone is so damn hot. Access to its interface and user community is so desirable that Apple has been able to keep ranks of developers around, even if they are often unhappy.
That isn’t something the company can take for granted, however. The launch of Google’s Android platform offers developers opportunity to build on a much, much more open system. That phone platform is still in its nascent stages, but a head to head battle for the hearts and minds of the development community is coming very soon.
We expect to see several more big concessions by Apple, above and beyond today’s decision to drop the NDA. Dropping the NDA was probably a relatively easy concession to make. In its announcement today Apple said:
the NDA has created too much of a burden on developers, authors and others interested in helping further the iPhone’s success, so we are dropping it for released software. Developers will receive a new agreement without an NDA covering released software within a week or so. Please note that unreleased software and features will remain under NDA until they are released.
Asking developers on one of the most popular development platforms on the planet to not talk about that platform under penalty of legal action was just silly, but there have obviously been no shortage of lawyers participating in the conversation even through today.