Apple Now Allows Emulators on iOS App Store, but Don’t Get Too Excited Yet

Apple Now Allows Emulators on iOS App Store - Featured

Although Apple’s iOS App Store rules now allow classic and console game emulators, don’t expect many to show up right away.

Changes to Apple’s App Store rules implemented in April 2024 reversed a ban on apps that emulate console and classic games. In theory, that means developers can start publishing emulators for iOS and iPadOS on the App Store that let you relive the glory days of arcade classics. Don’t get too excited, though, because developers still face several problems.

First Emulators Appear Only Briefly on iOS App Store Before Removal

The Cupertino-based tech giant revised its App Store rules in early April 2024. Rolling back guideline 4.7 of the App Store rules, Apple now allows “software that is not embedded in the binary” to function within an app. That means that “retro game console emulator apps” are allowed on the App Store.

The first of the emulators to show up on the iOS App Store was iGBA. The app would allow iPhone owners to play classic Game Boy games on their devices. However, the title didn’t remain available for long. Apple discovered it was a copycat version of an open-source emulator app, and removed it.

Next, an app called Bimmy appeared, allowing gamers to enjoy home-brew games on their iPhones in an emulated Nintendo Entertainment System environment. It also supported ROMs provided by the players, but that emulator didn’t stay available for long, either.

Bimmy’s developer pulled the emulator this time, not Apple. The developer said he decided to remove the App “out of fear.” Rightly so, since Nintendo has been cracking down on emulators lately. For example, Nintendo sued the team behind the Yuzu app. The company also issued vague legal threats to Steam about the Dolphin Emulator app.

Could the iPhone Ever See a Game Emulator?

What happened in the few short weeks after Apple began allowing game emulators on the App Store highlights the trouble developers will continue to see in their efforts to bring classic and console games to the iPhone. That type of app might be allowed on the App Store now, but it still faces intense scrutiny.

Yes, there are many options on PC and Mac for emulating retro games. There are also several Raspberry Pi options for tinkers to choose from. Bringing something like that to the App Store, though, is a much different beast. It garners much more attention and visibility. With companies like Nintendo remaining so vigilant about their copyright even on titles close to 40 years old, that visibility isn’t necessarily a good thing.

In time, maybe a high-quality retro game emulator or two will appear on the App Store and stick around. Bimmy developer Tom Salvo voiced the same hope on the MacRumors forums, saying that after his app appeared on the App Store, he “got more nervous about it as the day went on. Very sorry to get everyone’s hopes up, but hopefully hopefully there will be other more brave devs than me in the future.”

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