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Apple to Remove Outdated Apps from the App Store

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After several iOS developers reported Apple warned them it would remove a number of their apps, Apple has confirmed and clarified its policy about removing outdated apps from the App Store. The policy has been enforced since 2016 and affects apps that have not been updated within the last three years.

Several app makers, including Protopop Games, Kosta Eleftheriou, Emilia Lazer-Walker, and others, said on Twitter that they had received an email by Apple warning them that some of their apps would have been removed because they had "not been updated in a significant amount of time". The only way to keep those apps on the App Store, Apple added, was to submit an update within 30 days.

The news about this seemingly new policy from Apple quickly made the rounds on the Web and sparked an interesting conversation.

According to AppFigures' Ariel Michaeli, this policy could affect as many as 750,000 live apps out of slightly over 2 million apps currently available. This process will not be quick, Michaeli foresees, but Apple has already culled hundreds of thousands of apps along the years, he says. For example, a few years ago, Apple made support for 64 bits mandatory which led to the removal of many abandoned apps that were not rebuilt with a current compiler.

Affected developers, though, voiced their concern that Apple's policy was especially unfair for indie devs and specifically for game creators. As Lazer-Walker put it:

It isn't viable for me to spend multiple days updating each of a few free small games I built in ~2014.

In a similar vein, Protopop Games' Robert Kabwe explained how hard it can get for an indie developer to try to keep pace with the speed of change in mobile game development, oftentimes after their day job.

To clarify things, Apple published a post explaining that apps that have not been updated in three years and fail to meet a minimum download threshold are candidate for removal. The company justifies its policy, which it says was launched under the title of App Store Improvements in 2016, in terms of improving discoverability, security and privacy, and user experience with apps downloaded from the App Store.

Apples's clarification, while useful to set the exact terms of the discussion, does not address the core of a number of objections to the policy. In particular, this policy seems too restrictive for games, which can be considered a complete artwork at some point of their evolution, similarly to a movie, and not admit further evolution. This should prevent the possibility of playing them.

While it is certainly true, though, as Daring Fireball's John Gruber put it, that Pixar doesn’t have to re-render Toy Story every couple of years, this is not the end of the story. In fact, as Matt Deatherage chimes in, "the VHS tape of Toy Story you bought in 1996 does not work on your Apple TV box attached to your 8K TV". Deatherage also raises an additional point in favour of culling older apps, aiming to reduce the technical debt caused on the platform by apps that use legacy APIs. Indeed, those APIs must be maintained only to ensure backward compatibility for apps that are not regularly updated.

Apple's statement did include anyways two important points that could help developers who receive Apple's warning emails. 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 removal policy, they have a chance to appeal the decision and have their case reconsidered.

As a final remark, it is worth noting that Apple's policy is similar to Google's recently announced policy officially aiming to strengthen user security by getting rid of apps that target a more than two-year-old API level.

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