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Apple Bans Some iPhone Development Tools

Developers are struggling to understand whether anything other than Apple's development tools will be allowed.

In conjunction with the release of a beta version of its forthcoming iPhone 4.0 SDK on Thursday, Apple dropped a bombshell: It revised its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement in a way that appears to ban most third-party development tools.

The salient sentence in the changed portion of the License Agreement, Section 3.3.1, reads as follows:

Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

What these words mean, specifically Apple's interpretation of the language and the steps the company will take to enforce its interpretation, remains open to question. As written, Apple appears to deny programmers the right to write code for its iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad in any language other than Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript.

It could be argued that "applications" are not the same as "source code," which would mean that Apple is only concerned with compiled code. But Mark Methenitis, an attorney with The Vernon Law Group, said in an e-mail, "[The phrase 'originally written'] makes it problematic for any software that allows the code to be written in another language before moving to the iPhone platform. To me, originally written means before compilation."

Apple did not respond to repeated requests for further information.

The new agreement has incensed some developers, specifically those who rely on third-party development tools. Complaints about the contractual language have prompted Apple to lock discussion threads on its developer forums and to direct developers to communicate with the company through its developer contact page.

Frustrated developers, denied any official clarification, have again taken to protesting by way of bug reports. "Current SDK terms reduce desirability of iPhone OS as development platform," is the title of one recent bug report posted on Open Radar, a site set up to create a public repository of bug reports submitted to Apple -- something the company does not make public. The developer calls the terms "unprecedented" and "overreaching" and asks that they be changed.

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