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In what appears to be an effort to clean up the App Store, Apple has sent out notifications to several developers, advising them that their older apps are about to be removed from the App Store due to a lack of recent updates.
Titled “App Improvement Notice,” the email tells the developers in question that Apple plans to remove apps from the App Store that haven’t been “updated in a significant amount of time.”
However, the email is more of a warning than a declaration. Apple advises developers that they “can keep this app available for new users to discover and download from the App Store by submitting an update for review in 30 days.”
If developers submit an update of any kind — even if it takes several more weeks to pass through the App Store review process — their app will be left in place. Otherwise, Apple notes, it will be removed from sale.
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This app has not been updated in a significant amount of time and is scheduled to be removed from sale in 30 days. Apple
It’s unclear exactly how long Apple considers “a significant amount of time,” but as The Verge reports, the threshold appears to be around two years.
This isn’t the first time Apple has undertaken a project like this. Over five years ago, Apple announced it would be removing apps that are “broken” or no longer being maintained, but it’s unclear if this was a one-time initiative or if it’s been quietly culling the App Store routinely ever since.
Indie Developers Speak Up
This latest move by Apple has some developers up in arms. Many of their apps remain perfectly functional, even on the latest versions of iOS, and therefore simply haven’t needed to be updated.
Developer Robert Kabwe of Protopop Games, whose game Motivoto is being swept up in this latest purge, calls it “an unfair barrier to indie devs.” Kabwe cites the example of console games from 2000 still being available for sale.
However, the other side of the coin is that while Motivoto may still be fully functional, it hasn’t been updated since March 2019 — when iOS 12 was the most current operating system, and “iPadOS” didn’t even exist as a separate entity. Apps this old don’t take advantage of features available in newer iOS versions and, in some cases, may not even support the latest hardware.
Since they haven’t been updated in such a long time, these apps also lack the new App Store Privacy Labels. Apple is very firm on its policy about developers adding these labels — except that they’re only required when an app update is submitted. Hence, any apps that haven’t been updated in over a year can get away with skirting these rules.
Further, even something as simple as recompiling them under the newest Software Development Kits (SDKs) could help to deliver advantages such as improved power efficiency, resulting in longer battery life.
Still, it’s understandable how this can be frustrating for many indie developers who aren’t making a full-time living from app development. As Kabwe notes on Twitter, not only does he have a day job, but Apple isn’t the only marketplace he has to pay attention to.
I’m sitting here on a Friday night, working myself to 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.— Protopop Games (@protopop) April 23, 2022
Updating an app for the newest SDKs isn’t as simple as merely recompiling it with the latest version of Xcode. There are almost always things that break due to API changes, so developers have to make code changes, test, and debug before they can be confident that the updated version of the app will remain functional.
While it’s often easier to do this one major iOS release at a time rather than trying to cover the changes in three iOS updates in one fell swoop, it’s also fair to say that most small developers had no idea that Apple was going to pull the rug out from under them like this.
However, many developers see their games as “finished artworks” that no longer need to receive continuous updates. In some cases, that may not even be appropriate.
.@apple is removing a few of my old games b/c they have “not been updated in a significant amount of time”
Games can exist as completed objects! These free projects aren’t suitable for updates or a live service model, they’re finished artworks from years ago. pic.twitter.com/iflH70j7q4— emilia ✨ (@lazerwalker) April 23, 2022
For those developers, this also highlights the problem with Apple’s “walled garden” approach to the App Store. While Google has undertaken similar purges on the Google Play Store, developers of Android apps can release their work at a standalone “APK” that can be side-loaded by anybody who still wants it. Once a game is removed from sale on the App Store, it’s gone — at least for new players.
What This Means for You
As per the normal App Store policy, this doesn’t mean that these apps will suddenly disappear from your iPhone. Apple spells this out in its notice to the affected developers, stating that they don’t need to do anything if they simply want to make sure their current customers retain access to the app.
No action is required for the app to remain available to users who have already downloaded the app.Apple
Further, if you’ve already downloaded or purchased an app, but it’s no longer on your iPhone, you should still be able to find it in your Purchase History, even if it’s been removed from sale. Here’s how:
- On your iPhone (or iPad), open the App Store.
- Tap your avatar or initials in the top-right corner.
- Tap Purchased.
- If you’re part of a family plan, you’ll see a list of all your family members. Tap My Purchases at the top.
This will show you a list of every app you’ve ever downloaded or purchased, sorted chronologically by the original date of purchase. Tapping on Not on this iPhone will filter the list to show you only apps that haven’t been downloaded to your iPhone, and you can also search apps by tapping in the search field.
Remember that not every app on this list can be installed on your iPhone. Even though Apple leaves this list intact, some of these apps have truly been abandoned by their developers, and it isn’t even possible for an app that hasn’t been updated since 2014 to work on the latest iPhone and iPad hardware.
Still, if you’ve been a long-time App Store user, this list is also a nostalgic trip through your app history. Scroll to the bottom, and you’ll see the first apps you ever downloaded. Since the list is sorted by date of purchase, you may also be surprised at how long some current apps have been around.