Here’s a happy development to kick off October: Apple, which has come under increasing criticism for the all-encompassing non-disclosure agreement that developers must sign to create iPhone applications, is terminating it. In recent weeks the NDA was in the news for everything from preventing developers of programs that had been rejected from the App Store from discussing why to stifling publication of books about iPhone software development. It also caused some of the respondents to our recent iPhone satisfaction survey to express extreme dissatisfaction with Apple. Basically, it was so comprehensive that in theory, it turned the iPhone software platform into Fight Club: If you were a developer, you didn’t talk about it.
Here’s the Apple statement, which is appearing as a splash screen on the iPhone develper site:
I’m assuming that “iPhone software” refers to Apple’s iPhone software, not that written by third parties. And it was inevitable that a lifting of the blanket NDA which applied to stuff Apple had already released would involve a new NDA covering unreleased software; Apple is never going to spill the beans on cool new stuff until it’s ready.
A few thoughts:
–Apple says that it’s sending developers a new agreement without an NDA for released software; we should probably hold off on some of the celebration here until the details of that agreement are known.
–Apple has a reputation for being secretive and unapologetic–a well-deserved reputation, actually–but it’s learning how to be a little more open. With both the NDA and the MobileMe launch fiasco, it admitted that its actions created problems and that it had learned from them. I guess the NDA message above isn’t explicitly apologetic, but some companies in this spot would have simply changed the NDA without bothering to explain their thinking.
–How many multibillion-dollar companies would use the words “ripped off” in a corporate statement? Are they an oblique reference to the way Microsoft cribbed the Mac experience and turned it into Windows more than twenty years ago, and what that did to Apple? I’m not going to play psychologist, but it’s interesting, at least, to contemplate Apple’s actions with the iPhone as possibly stemming from nightmares it still has about stuff that went down in the 1980s.
–The statement says that the NDA was about preventing other companies from stealing Apple’s work, and that “it has happened before.” No rational observer could deny that that’s true–as my friend Steve Manes once said, Apple has served as the research and development arm of the entire industry for years. And even with the NDA, of course, every single other company that’s involved with smartphones is ransacking the iPhone for ideas to greater and lesser extents.
–The end of the blanket NDA doesn’t do anything to resolve what is probably the most serious issue relating to iPhone development, which is the evidence that Apple will reject third-party apps which tread too closely to its own programs. That’s potentially devastating to the platform, and iPhone developers and users deserve explanation of Apple’s reasoning the end of such policies, if they do in fact exist.
Apple is a very, very unusual technology company. Somehow it manages to be both the grand master of customer loyalty and to be, at times, brusquely willing to take actions which piss off those customers. But nobody ever accused Apple of being dumb, and it’s always nice to see evidence that it’s listening and learning. I continue to veer back and forth between crippling pessimism and unbridled optimism when it comes to the future of the iPhone as a computing platform, but today’s news went a long way towards cheering me up.