After several iOS developers reported that Apple warned them that it would remove a number of their apps, Apple confirmed and clarified its policy on removing old apps from the App Store. This policy has been in place since 2016 and affects apps that haven’t been updated in the past three years.
Many app makers, including Protopop gamesAnd Costa EleftherioAnd Emilia Lazer Walker, and others said on Twitter that they had received an email from Apple warning them that some of their apps had been removed because they had “not been updated in a long period of time”. Apple added that the only way to keep these apps on the App Store is to submit an update within 30 days.
News about this seemingly new policy from Apple quickly spread on the web and sparked an interesting conversation.
According to Ariel Michaeli of AppFigures, this policy can affect up to 750,000 live apps out of just over 2 million apps currently available. This process won’t be quick, Michaeli expects, but Apple has already culled hundreds of thousands of apps over the years, he says. For example, a few years ago, Apple made 64-bit support mandatory which removed many deprecated apps that weren’t rebuilt with an existing compiler.
Despite this, affected developers expressed concern that Apple’s policy was particularly unfair to independent developers and specifically to game creators. As Lazer-Walker said:
It is pointless for me to spend several days updating each of the few free mini-games that I made in ~2014.
In a similar vein, Robert Capwe of Protopop Games explained how hard it is for an independent developer to try to keep up with the pace of change in mobile game development, often beyond his day job.
To make matters clear, Apple has published a post explaining that apps that haven’t been updated in three years and fail to meet the minimum download threshold are candidates for removal. The company justifies its policy, which it says was launched under the title App Store Improvements in 2016, in terms of improving discoverability, security, privacy and user experience with apps downloaded from the App Store.
While Apples’ explanation is useful in setting the exact terms of discussion, it does not address the core of a number of objections to policy. In particular, this policy seems too restrictive for games, which can be considered a Complete artwork At some point in their development, similar to a movie, and they don’t acknowledge further development. This should prevent the possibility of playing with it.
While it’s certainly true, though, as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber said Pixar doesn’t have to reintroduce Toy Story every two years, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, as Matt Deatherage knocks, “The VHS tape from Toy Story that you bought in 1996 doesn’t work on your Apple TV that came with your 8K TV.” Deatherage also makes an additional point in favor of excluding legacy apps, with the goal of reducing the technical debt caused by apps that use legacy APIs on the platform. In fact, these APIs should only be maintained to ensure backward compatibility for applications that are not updated regularly.
Apple’s statement however included two important points that can help developers who receive warning emails from Apple. First, they will be given more time to update their apps, up to 90 days. Most importantly, Apple says, if developers believe their apps should not be affected by the takedown policy, they have a chance to appeal the decision and reconsider their case.
As a final note, it’s worth noting that Apple’s policy is similar to Google’s recently announced policy that officially aims to enhance user security by eliminating apps that target the API level that is more than two years old.