Apple is preparing to backtrack slightly on its hardline attitude to adult-themed apps and looks set to allow such content provided that it's marked as explicit.

The idea of the new category first surfaced at Cult of Mac, but Macworld has independently confirmed the existence of the new category.

As we've long had "Explicit" warnings on songs and ratings for TV shows, this could be Apple's first major step toward creating an exclusive category for adult applications and otherwise potentially offensive material.

Supplementing the age-based ratings system already in place, explicit offerings could easily be sectioned off from the rest of the store, along the lines of Google's "SafeSearch," where if a parent or user so chooses, they can restrict viewing of adult content altogether when searching or viewing - not to mention a whole other host of possibilities. It also allows a line to be drawn between the 17+ rated apps that truly offer adult content and those which merely give free access to the Internet.

Apple is understandably at a crossroads: on one hand, they're trying to market both the iPod touch and the upcoming iPad to a family-friendly (and scholastic) market, and the current age-rating system is insufficient for parents to block explicit content. At the same time, while everyone has their own opinions on the validity of these programs, the demand is nonetheless there; continuing to restrict development may send both programmers and customers away from the iPhone/iPad platform.

That's further complicated by the inconsistent development guidelines that Apple provides. For example, last June, Apple said that under no circumstances would the company distribute applications with inappropriate content, yet by February, these "sexy apps" somehow numbered in the thousands before being pulled. (And, of course, many from major publishers still remain.)

Officially, there has been no official statement from Apple about this new category. However, the suggestion that Apple is finally acknowledging the presence of adult and explicit content is promising for developers and customers alike.