iPhone roundup: iOS 4 apps in, third-party data collection out

Even though Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has consistently dominated mobile software headlines for the past few years, the last week was truly one for the books. In the days immediately following its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (the launching pad for the forthcoming iPhone 4, due in stores June 24), Apple made a series of moves destined to impact not only the iPhone developer community but also the mobile advertising segment and rival platform providers like Google--moves that additionally threaten to bring about new federal scrutiny into the company's business. Here's a recap.

Apple is now accepting iOS 4 app submissions. With the iPhone 4 arriving in stores next week, Apple is encouraging developers to submit applications based on the smartphone's upgraded iOS 4 operating system, "Submit your iOS 4 apps for review so they can be ready for sale when iOS 4 is available to iPhone and iPod touch users," reads the Apple website. "Make sure you have built and tested your applications using iOS 4 and iPhone SDK 4 GM seed, which you can download from the iPhone Dev Center."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently called iOS 4 "the most advanced mobile operating system in the world." The new OS includes 100 new features and 1,500 new APIs, highlighted by the introduction of multitasking, folders, a unified inbox and expanded search options. iPhone 4 itself boasts Apple's new FaceTime video calling solution, the new Retina display, a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash, HD video recording, support for iBooks, Apple's A4 processor and a three-axis gyro that should herald significant strides in mobile gaming. According to Jobs, Apple approves 95 percent of application submissions within seven days.

Apple is now offering a new developer tool, iTunes Connect Mobile. A free download available via the App Store, iTunes Connect Mobile enables iPhone app developers to access their sales and trend data from iTunes Connect. Apple states developers can view daily and weekly sales data spanning both premium and free apps, including updates, as well as information on in-app purchases. Within 24 hours of introducing iTunes Connect Mobile, Apple issued version 1.0.1, which corrected a bug preventing some accounts from logging in. (Cracked one customer review, "I needed this fix and I didn't expect it to come so quickly. I'm assuming Apple doesn't have to go through an approval process?")

Apple's new Game Center for iOS 4 is open for developers. Game Center--Apple's forthcoming multiplayer gaming platform spanning devices running iOS 4--is now accepting developer logins. Slated to launch this fall, Game Center will enable iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users to invite friends to play games, find other users to join games, track achievements and compare high scores. iOS 4 includes a series of GameKit APIs enabling developers to begin incorporating Game Center support into their apps.

Last but certainly not least, Apple has officially banned third-party iPhone data collection. Along with the release of iOS 4, Apple quietly but significantly updated the terms of its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement to effectively block third-party analytics firms from collecting iPhone application user or device data. Section 3.3.9 of Apple's developer agreement now reads "You and Your Applications may not collect, use, or disclose to any third party, user or device data without prior user consent, and then only under the following conditions:

  • "The collection, use or disclosure is necessary in order to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the Application. For example, without Apple's prior written consent, You may not use third party analytics software in Your Application to collect and send device data to a third party for aggregation, processing, or analysis.
  • "The collection, use or disclosure is for the purpose of serving advertising to Your Application; is provided to an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads (for example, an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent); and the disclosure is limited to UDID, user location data, and other data specifically designated by Apple as available for advertising purposes."

Most interpretations of the updated developer license agreement agree that while independently-owned mobile ad networks like Millennial Media, Greystripe and Jumptap remain welcome on the iPhone platform, networks like AdMob--acquired by Apple's archrival Google for $750 million--are now verboten. "This change threatens to decrease--or even eliminate--revenue that helps to support tens of thousands of developers," wrote AdMob founder Omar Hamoui on the firm's blog last week. "The terms hurt both large and small developers by severely limiting their choice of how best to make money.  And because advertising funds a huge number of free and low cost apps, these terms are bad for consumers as well." Hamoui added AdMob plans to speak to Apple "to express our concerns about the impact of these terms."

Concern over Apple's actions isn't limited to AdMob--federal antitrust regulators are investigating the matter as well. The Federal Trade Commission will reportedly lead an investigation to determine whether Apple is breaching antitrust laws; citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that discussions between the FTC and the U.S. Department of Justice ultimately determined that the former is the agency best equipped to spearhead the investigation. That's on top of a rumored federal probe into Apple's decision to rewrite its developer rules to mandate that all iPhone and iPod touch applications must be created to run directly on the iPhone platform, effectively blackballing cross-compiler translation tools like Adobe Systems' Flash Professional CS5. It's unclear where it all goes from here, but one thing's for certain: Apple isn't disappearing from the headlines anytime soon. -Jason

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