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Why developers are unhappy with Apple removing outdated apps

“I feel sick. Apple just sent me an email saying they’re removing my free game”

“I feel sick. Apple just sent me an email saying they’re removing my free game Motivoto because its more than 2 years old. It’s part of their App improvement system. This is not cool. Console games from 2000 are still available for sale. This is an unfair barrier to indie devs,” Protopop Games developer Robert Kabwe, tweeted in response to Apple notifying some developers that it is removing apps that haven’t been updated for a while.

According to the notice sent to affected developers, those who wish to keep the app live on the iOS App Store must submit an update within 30 days. This is not the first time Apple has announced such a move. Back in 2016, Apple made a similar move, but it is not clear how widely it was enforced.

Notably, Google earlier in April also announced that it would begin limiting the availability of outdated apps on the Play Store. It has given Android developers until November 1, 2022, to update their apps.

These changes add to the growing list of concerns for developers, who are already unhappy with Apple’s and Google’s in-app payment policies for being too restrictive and commissions for being too high. As a result, Apple App Store and Google Play Store are currently subject to antitrust investigations and regulations across the world including in India.

Why is Apple removing older apps?

“To make it easier for customers to find great apps that fit their needs, we want to ensure that apps available on the App Store are functional and up-to-date. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated,” Apple states on its App Store Improvements page. (emphasis ours)

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However, some developers have expressed their concern about this change because even fully-functional apps have been threatened removal.

There is no clarity on how long an app can go without updates before being subjected to removal.

Why are developers not happy with this change?

  • Unfair to indie developers: Kabwe tweeted that it is an unfair cost for indie developers in terms of time and money. “I’m sitting here on a Friday night, working myself to bone after my day job, trying my best to scrape a living from my indie games, trying to keep up with Apple, Google, Unity, Xcode, MacOS changes that happen so fast my head spins while performing worse on older devices.”
  • Some apps are finished projects, spending multiple days on updating them isn’t viable: Developer Emilia Lazer-Walker took to Twitter to express that “these free projects aren’t suitable for updates or a live service model, they’re finished artworks from years ago” and spending multiple days updating them isn’t viable.
  • Arbitrary removal: Kosta Eleftheriou, who calls himself a Professional App Store Critic, tweeted that Apple removed a version of his FlickType Keyboard that catered specifically to the visually impaired community, because he hadn’t updated it in 2 years, but left some other apps that haven’t updated for seven years still available.
  • Updating is not an easy task: Eleftheriou also pointed out that there is no alternative way to make these apps available to iOS users and updating them is a arduous task:

  • Many industries cannot update at the pace required by Apple: In an insightful thread, developer Danny Day goes on to explain why Apple’s move is problematic, including that many industries like healthcare and education cannot keep pace with regular updates:

  • Don’t remove original and defining games: “We can watch defining movies from decades ago or dig up a SNES and play an iconic game… what will we do when Apple has removed most every original and defining game from the App Store? Friends at Apple, this policy and process needs to change,” Ryan McLeod tweeted.

Is this because of technical reasons?

In response to the concerns raised by the developers cited above, some Twitter users suggested that Apple could be removing apps because the old apps are not compatible with frameworks available for the newer iOS versions. But developers have pointed out that this is not the case.

Lazer-Walker pointed out that this is not a decision made on technical grounds because her apps currently work on all versions of iOS.

Danny Day also explained how Apple’s notice doesn’t refer to API versions or technical requirements:

A handful of other developers also took to Twitter to explain how their apps have been working fine and continue to be downloaded, indicating that there is no technical hindrance in allowing these apps to continue existing on the App Store.

Even if there are technical reasons, Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, who is currently fighting Apple’s App Store practices in court, pointed out that multiple other platforms have enabled backward compatibility:

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Lazer-Walker argued the same and also pointed out that while Google at least allows the option of making the APK available through other means, Apple is a “pure walled garden.”

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