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Forbidden Fruits

A short while after the WWDC 2012 keynote, when Apple made the iOS 6 BETA publicly available, somebody tweeted in German that there are probably already more devices running iOS 6 than Android 4. I translated the tweet to English and tweeted it for everybody’s amusement.

According to sources the iOS 6 BETA is already more widely distributed than Android 4.0

I also added the “According to sources” to make fun of pundits who always add something like this to underline the authoritativeness of the rumors they pick out of thin air. Reactions ranged from calling BS over joy to suspension of disbelief with most tweeps getting that this is one of these things where you cannot really know but it would be funny if it were true, or maybe it really is?

I read it on the Internet and so it must be so …

However there are several things we know for sure. These are the facts and they are undisputed. A whole new business segment formed around methods to get iOS 6 into the hands of non-developers. Wired ran an article on these Scofflaw Developers who have sophisticated websites selling access to a limited resource. A scofflaw is “a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor”, where liquor is the Apple Koolaid.

Be warned …

Software as such can be copied without limit, but Apple puts an artificial limitation on the number of devices that a developer can install BETA software on, 100 for individual or company accounts. The enterprise program limit is 500 devices. They also warn every developer:

[iOS 6] is intended only for installation on development devices registered with Apple’s Developer Program. Attempting to install this version of iOS in an unauthorized manner could put your device in an unusable state, which could necessitate an out of warranty repair.

[some compiler] and iOS 6 beta are pre-release software and are considered Apple Confidential Information and are subject to the terms of your iOS Developer Program License Agreement. Unauthorized distribution or disclosure of Apple Confidential Information is prohibited.

Your iOS Developer Program membership can be terminated if you provide pre-release Apple Software to anyone other than employees, contractors, and members of your organization who are registered as Apple Developers and have a demonstrable need to know or use Apple Software in order to develop and test applications on your behalf. Unauthorized distribution of Apple Confidential Information (including pre-release Apple Software) is prohibited and may subject you to both civil and criminal liability.

These messages make iOS 6 contraband of the finest quality.

Why do we have an NDA in the first place?

We tend to forget too easily. Do you remember that the Apple developer NDA in the past was covering all Apple iOS software? You couldn’t even discuss any programming techniques with your developer friends in public. Thankfully Apple has reconsidered and abolished the NDA for released software on October 1st, 2008. This move made it possible for sites like mine to openly discuss iPhone development topics.

“Released” being the operative word. As in publicly available because Apple has made it such. NOT as in “widely circulated by Scofflaws”.

In Apple’s own words the NDA is meant to protect inventions and innovations “so that others don’t steal our work” in addition to “hundreds of patents” that they have filed on iPhone technology. The tone of this announcement reminds us of they kind of language that Steve Jobs was known for. Remember “Thermonuclear War”?

The core reason for the NDA is to broaden the window during which Apple can seek legal protection for new stuff in iOS. A reader of Daring Fireball offered this explanation:

At my company, our lawyers advised us to keep what we considered more-or-less public software under NDA for a very long time because demoing software to someone under NDA, no matter how many people it is, avoids “publishing” the software and any inventions contained therein.

We know Apple’s been building up a patent strategy around multi-touch; maybe their lawyers believe there are patentable inventions described in the iPhone SDK and they are telling Apple to keep everything under NDA until they know provisional patents can be filed within a reasonable amount of time (you get a year after publishing in the US, but in the EU, I think you forfeit any patent claims once your invention is “published”).

It’s like, it doesn’t matter at all how broad/leaky the NDA process is, in the eyes of the USPTO, every invention in the iPhone SDK is a non-published invention and will continue to be so until the NDA is lifted.

This mentions the One Year Rule, which states that “any public use” or any description of the invention in a public document (like a blog post) starts the one year timer and once this has ticked down to zero patentability is out of the door.

Apple has an additional level of security to preserve patentability. Not only prohibit they any publication of iOS 6 internals between WWDC and the fall release, they intentionally limit this secret period to well under a year, like 3 to 4 months. This is only possible because of the enormous secrecy inside Apple.

You can be certain that while I’m writing this work on iOS 7 has already begun. If anything would become “published” about this work right now then Apple would lose patentability of it by that time next year. An unfortunate mishap like this would cause much stress on those poor Apple patent lawyers. Also it would make filing the patent more difficult because holders of competing patents would have an extra year of opportunity to find some prior art to immediately void the not-even-filed-yet patent.

Ideally Apple would like to keep new versions of their Operating Systems secret right until the day of release. But even Apple must concede that software is never truly error-free and a period of broad BETA testing is necessary to insure sufficient stability and quality at launch. So those 3 months of intense testing are the minimum compromise between Apple’s lawyers and Apple’s engineers.

Forbidden Fruit Syndrome

This term comes from the bible for the Apple software that Eve was tempting Adam’s hardware with. And there was a snake too.

A good definition for the FFS is this:

In basic terms, it doing something that you’ve been told not to do, but you do it anyway. Depending on the context it may be very mundane or a societal taboo.

I think people like the forbidden fruit because the satisfaction gained from it is usually quite good, but it may leave a sour taste.

iOS 6 is coveted, Apple told us not to do it (at great length) still many users are seeking the satisfaction of being first amongst iOS 6 users. “Look! My Mail has Pull to Refresh” aka “I’m way cooler than you”.

Installing iOS 6 on your main phone provides multiple thrills that few developers can escape from. Smart beings are purchasing “Sacrifical iPod Touches” to install it on, but the foolhardy do it without protection. At least those who do can claim “hey I need to test my apps on that in realistic conditions!”

… or really just Marketing?

Restricting people’s access to the latest and greatest (however unpolished it is under the hood) might also be some sort of backhanded marketing ploy to hype iOS even more. But, honestly, I can tell you from my own experience that engineering is way more important to Apple than that. iOS 6 is far from finished and far from ready for adoption by the broad populace.

What personally bugs me (the “sour taste”, see above) about the practise of selling devices registrations is the kinds of users that will make use of this. The Apple Bug Reporter site is open for everybody with an Apple ID, but most of these “illegal” users will probably never be filing any Radars. The only thing these people ever do is complain about all that is wrong with iOS 6 but never actually help in ironing out the kinks.

What our favorite operating system needs right now is to actually be tested in realistic conditions and then have as many high quality bug reports (aka Radars) filed for the problems you encounter. The more we take that to heart, the better the first Gold Master of it will be.

You can save yourself the time to ask me “is iOS 6 ready to be installed on my main phone?” For me it is, but I’m a developer (I’m testing and filing Radars like crazy) and I have an extensive museum of every iPhone ever made to switch too should my phone become unusable.


Categories: Apple

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