iFixit's Apple TV Tear Down Screwed Developers

Apple rarely gives developers early access to unreleased products, and iFixit may have ruined that for everyone. iFixit is known for their detailed tear downs for new devices, and the company found itself on Apple's bad side after taking apart an early access Apple TV developer kit and posting what's inside on its website.

The Apple TV view we weren't supposed to see yetThe Apple TV view we weren't supposed to see yet

The new Apple TV was introduced during a media event in September with the promise of an October release. The new model supports third-party apps, so Apple offered developers early access to the device so they could start testing their code on actual hardware.

iFixit made the cut and got their kit, but instead of jumping in and getting to work on an Apple TV-native app, they cracked the case open and shared a detailed analysis of what's inside with the Internet. The tear down lived up to iFixit's standards and offered some great insight into Apple's design genius, but it shouldn't have gone online until the new Apple TV was officially released to the public.

Here's the problem: Getting a pre-release Apple TV was an agreement to not talk publicly about the device until its October release. iFixit violated its developer agreement with Apple by posting the tear down early, so Apple responded by revoking their developer account.

"The  developer unit we disassembled was sent to us by Apple. Evidently, they didn't intend for us to take it apart," said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. "A few days later, we got an email from Apple informing us that we violated their terms and conditions—and the offending developer account had been banned."

Since iFixit had an iPhone app linked to that developer account, it was pulled from the App Store. Pulling the app wasn't a spiteful act, but simply how the terms and conditions work. Apps need to be linked to valid developer accounts, and iFixit doesn't have one anymore.

For iFixit, this isn't going to be that big of a deal. The content they offered through their app is available on the company's website, and it can still buy products it guts on release day just as it has always done.

For the rest of the developer community, however, the consequences are a lot bigger. Apple rarely gives developers pre-release access to hardware like this, and thanks to iFixit that likely won't happen again. Next time, Apple will most likely limit access to a few hand picked developers who come to the company's headquarters for some controlled hands-on time ahead of the product launch.

That means the larger group of developers who had the luxury of extended time with the new Apple TV won't get that in the future, and instead will have to make due with software simulators and updates after they see how their apps perform on shipping hardware.

That sucks, but the real salt in the wound is that some developer was turned down for the early access program in favor of iFixit. Instead of getting to test their app on real hardware, they have to wait until release day just like the rest of us, and the Apple TV they would've had instead ended up in pieces on the Internet.

Mr. Wiens' response to Apple pulling iFixit's developer account: "Live and learn," he said. That kind of stings considering it's hard to believe he didn't see this coming. Apple's agreement with developer program members is pretty clear, and you'd have to be surprisingly myopic to not expect the company's reaction.

iFixit it got its early Apple TV tear down plus the visibility that goes along with it, and lost its developer account. In the end, however, the real price will be paid by the rest of the developer community.