File Under: Mobile, Software & Tools

iPhone Coders Muzzled, Miffed by Apple’s NDA

BrokeniPhone by JefferySimpson via FlickrThe iPhone development community is growing rapidly, but Apple’s treatment of some of its biggest supporters is drawing more ire than kudos.

Because of the company’s restrictive non-disclosure agreement (NDA), iPhone developers are legally banned from sharing programming tips, discussing code or asking questions of one another in forums or over e-mail.

They feel as if they’re coding with their hands tied, and the frustration is enough to make iPhone programmers want to curse loudly in the direction of Cupertino.

“FUCKING NDA” has become a mantra on Twitter. Every time a developer posts about his or her latest run-in with the metaphorical brick wall that is Apple’s NDA, the capitalized expletive is sounded off. “FUCKING NDA” has become such a phenomenon, a website has sprung up at to track the twisted tweets.

A sampling of’s vitriolic nuggets:

“I can’t get a feature of this iPhone app work. The result is I’m going to settle on an inferior approach. App won’t be as good. FUCKING NDA.” – Marcel Molina

“The FUCKING NDA is here to stay. It has certainly crushed my enthusiasm for the platform. Big time.” – Jonathan Eunice

“Re: the FUCKING NDA: It’s pretty clear that this is being done for competitive reasons. At the cost of A LOT of developer productivity.” – Craig Hockenberry

Apple’s software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone is the primary set of tools for building apps for the iPhone, especially if the creations are to be included for sale in the device’s App Store. The NDA, which must be agreed to before the SDK can be downloaded, prevents programmers from discussing the finer points of their code.

Justin Williams, a developer for Second Gear created as a way to showcase his fellow developers’ frustration with Apple.

“It started out as a joke on Twitter with the iPhone community,” Williams says of the site’s launch in late July. “I figured I would get about 10,000 visitors a day and it would go away in about a week. The site has been linked to and commented on Twitter ever since.”

NDAs are commonplace in software development, but many see Apple’s restrictions as excessive, and even as a roadblock in iPhone application advancement.

“There is no legal way for developers to talk about they are developing,” Williams laments. “No way to post tutorials. No way to give code away. It’s hard to interact with other developers and to write code without reinventing the wheel. Normally, you could post [a coding question] on Twitter and get an answer within minutes.”

Why the secrecy?

“[It has] something to do with keeping competitors from looking into it and finding out what [Apple] did,” Williams says. “Or something else over my head.”

Brian Dear of Eventful praised Apples’ tools and developer evangelist team, but felt there was more he could do with his company’s event-listing iPhone application had it not been for the NDA.

“With the NDA, we’re unable to talk with one another,” Dear says. “We want the developer community to be a lot like the open source developing community where you can help and talk to one another about the best way to do these things.”

In an e-mail, Dear says his team had to abandon a certain user interface enhancement simply because they couldn’t figure out how to implement it.

“[We] weren’t able to get anywhere with Apple, and had nowhere else to turn,” he says. “We couldn’t talk to other developers to see if anyone else knew of a way to do it.”

The open source community is an example where open communication has been proven to foster problem-solving and collaboration. Bugs, issues and coding methods for open source applications are discussed regularly on IRC, over e-mail or in forums.

“I would urge Apple to transition from its current position to one of supporting and encouraging a thriving, open, developer ecosystem for the iPhone,” Dear says.

Before the iPhone 3G was released, when the SDK was in beta, the NDA made sense — it contained some sneak peaks into the hardware and software functionalities of the not-yet released product. But now that the new iPhone and its software have shipped, Apple’s motivation is in question. Still, there is nothing keeping anyone from downloading the SDK and its NDA. All that’s required is an Apple login and a download from its developer site.

“I don’t know the reasons why Apple chose to go the NDA route, but there must be reasons,” Dear says. “I hope that in time those reasons will become less important or even moot, and we can get to an open environment.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

Photo: Jeffery Simpson via Flickr