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02 October 2008, 17:02

Apple drops iPhone NDA for developers

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Apple's move on Wednesday to lift parts of its non-disclosure agreement (NDA) attached to the use of the iPhone smartphone software development kit (SDK) has been greeted with jubilation by some, and within hours resulted in the release of previously restricted material including code and developer manuals.

On its launch of the iPhone Developer Program in early March, Apple placed tight restrictions on developers' ability to discuss the SDK, which in practice meant that developers could not discuss their own applications and programming techniques. The NDA also meant that potentially useful programming guides and manuals were held up from release.

Apple said on Wednesday it was dropping the NDA for released software and features of the SDK, although other provisions will still apply – notably to the discussion of communications with Apple, which has upset some programmers who disagree with Apple's criteria for accepting or rejecting applications for the iPhone App Store.

The NDA also continues to apply to SDK software and features while they are still in development, such as the beta releases of iPhone firmware that are distributed with the SDK. Apple said it would send a new agreement to developers within about a week, but confirmed that the change takes effect immediately. In a statement on its developer programme website, the company defended the unusually restrictive NDA as a necessary measure to prevent industrial espionage.

"We put the NDA in place because the iPhone OS includes many Apple inventions and innovations that we would like to protect, so that others don't steal our work. It has happened before," Apple said in the statement. The NDA was intended as "another level of protection" on top of Apple's "hundreds of patents on iPhone technology", the company stated.

Apple said it decided to drop the restrictions for released software because the NDA "created too much of a burden on developers, authors and others interested in helping further the iPhone's success".

The agreement had blocked developers from discussing their experiences in online forums as well as in developer manuals, and the change resulted in the immediate release of iPhone development books from the likes of publisher The Pragmatic Programmers. Dave Thomas, a developer with the publishing firm, said the NDA change would permit the release of several books and online broadcasts that had been held back because of legal restrictions. "A great huzzah! was heard through the land," Thomas wrote in a blog post. "This is incredibly good news."

Like other programmers, he wasn't without criticism of Apple for the complications it initially introduced into the development process. "After a rocky start… eventually the senior management listened to the community and did the right thing," he wrote.

Other developers released code intended to illustrate particular design tricks for iPhone applications, such as developer Craig Hockenberry, whose code demonstrated the use of URL schemes in integrating different applications. "Now let’s enjoy our newfound freedom to discuss the iPhone SDK and the first of many sample code releases on this site!" Hockenberry wrote.

(Matthew Broersma)


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