Apple Explains What an Abandoned App Is + Extends Deadline for Developers

While several developers objected to this move, it turns out that this isn’t an entirely new policy.
WWDC21 Tim Cook Apps Credit: Apple
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Last week Apple raised the ire of some developers when it sent out notices that it would be removing older apps from the App Store — those that hadn’t been updated in a substantial amount of time.

While several developers objected to the seemingly capricious move on Apple’s part, it turns out that this isn’t an entirely new policy. Apple has been doing this since at least 2016, although it’s never been fully clear how often it culls the App Store like this.

However, from what John Gruber of Daring Fireball has been told, Apple does this pretty routinely — at least every few months. It just seems that this time around, the company has touched a nerve with some developers who feel that their apps are being treated unfairly.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Apple can be somewhat opaque about the process. The notice that went out to developers last week was scant on details, telling developers only that one or more of their apps had “not been updated in a significant amount of time” and, as a result, would be “removed from sale in 30 days.”

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The policy appeared not to discriminate between those apps that work fine on iOS 15.4 and therefore don’t need to be updated and those that do because they’re either missing features or incompatible with the latest iOS release in some way.

Indie game developers, in particular, took umbrage with Apple’s approach, with several insisting that their games still work just fine and don’t require updating just for the sake of updating them.

Apple Explains the Criteria

Undoubtedly, as a result of the negative pushback, Apple has published an update for developers, providing more detail on the criteria it’s using to cull these apps while also extending an olive branch to developers by giving them more time to comply.

Specifically, Apple considers an app to be ready for the chopping block if it meets the following criteria:

  1. It has not been updated in the last three years.
  2. It has failed to “meet a minimal download threshold.” Apple doesn’t exactly explain what this threshold is, but describes it as “not downloaded at all or extremely few times during a rolling 12 month period.”

Developers of apps that have not been updated within the last three years and fail to meet a minimal download threshold — meaning the app has not been downloaded at all or extremely few times during a rolling 12 month period — receive an email notifying them that their app has been identified for possible removal from the App Store.Apple

The first point gives us a better idea of Apple’s timing threshold, but the second explains why some much older apps remain on the App Store.

For example, FlickType Keyboard developer Kosta Eleftheriou, who has been a vocal opponent of some of Apple’s App Store policies in the past, pointed out last week that Pocket God remains on the App Store despite having received its last update in 2015.

Now that Apple has shared its criteria, this explanation is considerably more obvious. Pocket God is popular. In Eleftheriou’s screenshot, it’s showing as the number one app in the Entertainment category with over 2,300 ratings.

Apple has also shared some pretty staggering numbers, noting that it’s removed almost 2.8 million apps as part of this “App Store Improvements” process over the past six years.

Apple’s rationale is to “ensure that apps work for the vast majority of users and support our latest innovations in security and privacy.” It also helps to remove much of the clutter from the App Store by improving discoverability; you’re more likely to find a useful app to meet your needs when you don’t have to wade through search results that include dozens of older apps that haven’t been properly updated.

For those developers who are affected, Apple is now offering 90 days to submit an update to keep their apps active on the App Store. While an update has to pass muster with the usual App Store Review procedures, Apple doesn’t require anything more specific from developers than simply making sure that they’re working with the latest iOS 15 software development kit.

In other words, developers can update their apps to ensure that they work with iOS 15 while otherwise resubmitting them to the App Store as-is.

Even if developers fail to meet this extended deadline, Apple notes that the app will not be removed for users who have already downloaded or purchased it. Further, the app’s name will remain associated with the developer’s account and, therefore, not be available for use by anybody else.

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