In a statement this morning, noted curmudgeon and control freak Apple signaled a surprising change of heart, announcing that it is “relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code.” Exactly what that means has yet to be revealed, but we’ll likely learn more very soon.

One of the big looming questions: does this mean Adobe’s Flash-based hero-to-zero Packager for iPhone will stage a triumphant comeback? Or will Adobe announce that it has had enough of Apple’s shenanigans and is perfectly happy in the strong, loving arms of its new beau, Android? (Perhaps a Harlequin romance novel cover graphic is apropos, I’d better start the Google search now.)

Apple also announced that it would allow at least a tiny bit of light to shine into its notoriously opaque app review process, thus revealing the arcane rituals and sacrifices necessary to get an app approved for the App Store. My guess is that it involves heaping piles of plantains and pig carcasses in an offering to appease the angry Jobs, who dances about in a loincloth speaking in tongues, stopping only to occasionally answer a random buffoon’s angry email rant. Just speculating, though.

» Statement by Apple on App Store Review Guidelines

Flash’s much-heralded, much-delayed appearance on Android with Froyo has received its share of attention, from both overly optimistic and relentlessly critical sources, and it’s difficult to give it a clear assessment at this point. A variety of videos have shown Flash running reasonably well, while others show it with its pants down around its ankles. The best verdict you can give it right now is, it depends on what you’re trying to do.

Apple’s argument has long been that Flash’s performance is not up to snuff on mobile devices, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that position. Even with the 10.1 update, many Flash-based sites run poorly, especially when playing video. Errors, choppy playback, failure to load and other problems are common. GigaOM’s Ryan Lawler, cutting to the chase as he presents a video by Kevin Tofel struggling with several different video sites on his Nexus One, concludes:

While in theory Flash video might be a competitive advantage for Android users, in practice it’s difficult to imagine anyone actually trying to watch non-optimized web video on an Android handset, all of which makes one believe that maybe Steve Jobs was right to eschew Flash in lieu of HTML5 on the iPhone and iPad.

However, I had another sort of experience with Flash on Android this weekend, which proves (at least to me) that there’s another side to the story.

I had recently shown my Web Foundation class the nifty Flash-based interactive video for “Sleepeater” by the New Zealand band Shihad. The song got stuck in my head, and I wanted to download it; and it happened, as these things often do these days, while I was in my car. (No, I wasn’t driving at the time.) However, the band’s latest album won’t be released for a few weeks, and a search on iTunes via my iPhone turned up nothing. (The song is actually available in the New Zealand iTunes store, but a kiwi I am not.)

So, I turned to the most logical source in a situation like this: MySpace. As luck would have it, Shihad’s MySpace page had the song in its music player, and it didn’t care what country I’m in. The MySpace music player, as you are probably aware, is Flash-based. I loaded their page on my Dolphin HD browser, scrolled over to the player, and tapped it to download the Flash piece, which went relatively smoothly. After it appeared, I tapped the song in the playlist, and after a bit more non-Flash-related fumbling to turn on the sound, my car filled with the song I would otherwise be unable to hear.

Now, the experience was not fantastic — the player is slow, it’s not very responsive, and of course the sound quality is fairly mediocre. But it worked. And the reason why that’s relevant should, I hope, be obvious: there’s an awful lot of content on the Web that’s locked up (or set free, depending on your point of view) in Flash, and many people will want to get to it, sooner or later, on a mobile device.

Apple’s approach is to try to convince the world it doesn’t need Flash content, because people can download an app to do the same thing; but that only works for the content someone has decided to put into an app. The same is true of HTML5 content. Howling reports of atrocious Flash video performance aside, there is a valid reason for wanting to use Flash on a phone, even if the experience is poor. Video and games may not be ideal candidates, admittedly. But the next time you just have to see or hear something on your phone and it happens to be in Flash, Android at least gives you a chance of success that is greater than zero.

That may be faint praise, it may not be a selling point for everyone, but it’s difficult to accept the idea that you should be glad your iPhone and iPad are absolutely, unequivocally unable to play Flash. Rocking out to “Sleepeater” in my car the past few days, I was certainly glad not to be stuck with Apple’s decision.

It seems Google has finally realized Android is a viable competitor to the iPhone — it did outsell the iPhone in the US in Q1 2010, after all — and it has awoken from its slumber looking for a bite of Apple. At their I/O conference today, Google unveiled the details of their upcoming 2.2 version of Android, codenamed Froyo, and there’s plenty to get excited about.

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In a case of selective fact-picking reminiscent of the most bitter divorce battles, Steve Jobs posted an open letter today about Apple’s ongoing hate-hate relationship with Flash. Among the juiciest tidbits is this statement about Flash’s openness:

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

Substitute “Apple’s iPhone” for “Adobe’s Flash,” and you’ll have a similarly true statement. More funtastic highlights after the break.

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In a less-than-shocking turn of events, Adobe’s Mike Chambers announced in his blog Tuesday that Adobe will cease its efforts to bring Flash-powered apps to the iPhone, following the release of Flash CS5:

While it appears that Apple may selectively enforce the terms (of the iPhone SDK), it is our belief that Apple will enforce those terms as they apply to content created with Flash CS5. Developers should be prepared for Apple to remove existing content and applications (100+ on the store today) created with Flash CS5 from the iTunes store.

We will still be shipping the ability to target the iPhone and iPad in Flash CS5. However, we are not currently planning any additional investments in that feature.

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The hubbub over the changes in the iPhone 4.0 SDK agreement continues to spin out of control across the Interwebs, with bloggers, the commentariat, Adobe developers and even Steve Jobs himself jumping in to take a swing. Oh, it’s getting exciting! Tune in after the break for a blow-by-blow recap.

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As reported on Daring Fireball, Apple’s new iPhone SDK 4.0 appears to explicitly ban apps made using cross-compilers (tools that allow you to create iPhone apps using other languages, APIs and third-party tools). This includes not only Adobe’s upcoming Flash-based Packager for iPhone tool, a central gem in the Flash CS5 crown, but also up-and-coming third-party tools like Titanium:

My reading of this new language is that cross-compilers, such as the Flash-to-iPhone compiler in Adobe’s upcoming Flash Professional CS5 release, are prohibited. This also bans apps compiled using MonoTouch — a tool that compiles C# and .NET apps to the iPhone. It’s unclear what this means for tools like Titanium and PhoneGap, which let developers write JavaScript code that runs in WebKit inside a native iPhone app wrapper. They might be OK. This tweet from the PhoneGap Twitter account suggests they’re not worried. The folks at Appcelerator realize, though, that they might be out of bounds with Titanium. Ansca’s Corona SDK, which lets you write iPhone apps using Lua, strikes me as out of bounds.

While Apple is certainly within their rights to decide how developers create iPhone apps — and developer enthusiasm for the iPhone OS is likely to only get stronger with the iPad in the mix — it’s another example of Apple’s tendency to wield its godlike power over the platform with a heavy hand. Oops, did we forget to mention we just invalidated a bunch of companies’ business models while you were all marveling over the new multitasking features? But then, it has always struck me as insanely dangerous to hang one’s fortunes on the grace of such a fickle overlord in the first place.

» New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone Compiler (Daring Fireball)

Update: Jon Gruber follows up with a very well-reasoned examination of the likely thinking behind Apple’s decision. The quick summary: it’s good for everyone but producers of third-party app-building software (and, of course, the developers who use it). For those who were hoping for a shortcut: time to crack open Objective-C for Dummies.