The Apple Developer Connection (ADC) is no more; it has been renamed to the Mac Developer Program to parallel the iPhone Developer Program. The Mac Developer Program's price is now a uniform $99 per year, without any hardware discounts; a limited free version of the program remains available.
This change comes shortly after Apple imposed mandatory membership at $99 per year in the iPhone Developer Program to receive future iPhone OS betas. Before the iPhone 3.2 beta release, members could join at no cost, and pay only if they wanted to release software through the App Store. (It's possible the iPhone Developer Program fee applies only during the beta period; Apple says elsewhere that the iPhone SDK is available at no cost.)
ADC membership used to have many tiers, differentiated partly by whether Mac OS X update and new version betas were included. A free membership included access to technical documentation ($199 got you the same stuff shipped on discs by mail), while paid levels included Mac OS X betas.
The $499 Select level included Mac OS X builds, two technical support incidents with which developers could get detailed troubleshooting help, and one hardware discount. The hardware discount allowed purchases of Macs at reduced prices, sometimes high enough to offset the full price of Select.
A $3,499 Premier membership included a ticket to WWDC (Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference), 10 hardware discounts, and eight technical support incidents. Both programs also provided access to Apple onsite compatibility labs, marketing help, and other tidbits.
A Student membership cost $99, and included just the hardware discount and operating system builds.
In contrast, the new Mac Developer Program is a thing of simplicity: $99 per year for access to Mac OS X releases, including server versions. This price includes two technical support incidents, and additional incidents cost $99 for a pack of two or $249 for a pack of five. The $99 price is the same for individuals or for companies of any size.
Apple dropped WWDC-related material and hardware discounts in the new program. At one point, when Macs cost substantially more and developers regularly needed new models to test, the hardware discount made those purchases palatable; a developer subscription was often cheaper than the difference Apple charged between its street price and its developer price for a high-end computer. Now, many developers don't need to buy hardware every year (and Apple's entry-level models are powerful enough to allow software development), but do need the technical support incidents.
For many developers, this is a massive price drop. Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software tweeted, "Whoah, my annual Apple tax dropped from $600 to $200?" (He was referring to the cost of his iPhone and Mac developer memberships combined.)
A free option remains, which looks identical to the previous ADC free level and provides access to Apple's Xcode 3 developer tools, online resources, and bug reporting.
Apple's intention is clearly to make it more affordable to dip one's toes into the Mac OS X development pool without a $500 (plus sales tax) tab. It also means that those of us who write about Mac OS X or develop Web applications can have far cheaper access to future releases and upgrades against which we can test before they ship.
Apple has a FAQ that explains the transition for existing ADC members, who retain various benefits such as transferrable assets (the ability to let other account holders get a hardware discount or access to Mac OS X pre-releases) until current memberships expire. Recent subscribers or those who purchased renewals may be able to get refunds.