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Steve Jobs lectures devs, dodges antitrust action

Weeding the walled garden

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The Good News

In addition to publishing its App Store Review Guidelines on Thursday, Apple issued a statement announcing that it was "relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code."

As we read the tea leaves, this means that applications created using Adobe's Flash Packager are no longer barred from iOS devices — it does not, however, mean that Flash-based content embedded in websites will be playable on iOS-compatible browsers.

Still, half a loaf is better than none — and Adobe System's stock, perhaps not coincidentally, soared over 12 per cent during Thursday trading following the news.

It's also good news for iOS device users who have been denied access to any apps that weren't developed using the Apple-approved languages of Objective-C, C, C++, and JavaScript.

In its statement, Apple specifically referred to sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2, and 3.3.9 of its Developer Program License Agreement. The first of those three mandated the Apple-approved languages, the second prohibited the launching of any "other executable code by any means", and the third crimped the collection of user data from services such as Google's AdMob.

And Google is mighty happy about the removal of that third restriction. In a blog post, Google VP of product management Omar Hamoui noted that "Apple's new terms will keep in-app advertising on the iPhone open to many different mobile ad competitors and enable advertising solutions that operate across a wide range of platforms."

From Hamoui's point of view: "This is great news for everyone in the mobile community, as we believe that a competitive environment is the best way to drive innovation and growth in mobile advertising."

But from our point of view, Apple's hand was forced. By lifting its code ban, Apple removes the spectre of an antitrust inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice. By removing the AdMob barriers, Apple does much the same with the possibility of FTC or DoJ action on that allegedly anti-competitive front.

And so Apple's one-two punch both loosens and tightens restrictions on developers. Its lifting of the code ban and advertising strictures, although likely prompted by fear of legal action, allows a broader range of developer tools and — as Hamoui puts it — "provide[s] immediate clarification about the status of mobile advertising on the iPhone [that] will benefit users, developers, and advertisers."

On the other hand, by tightening content restrictions on developers with its "my way or the highway" App Store Review Guidelines — or, at minium, by explicitly spelling out what was implicit in its seemingly arbitrary App Store police's actions — Jobs & Co have shored up the fortifications of the walled garden that is the iOS ecosystem. ®

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