Emulators On iPhone Are Already Off To A Rocky Start

A Game Boy Advance emulator was added (and then removed) from the App Store in a single weekend.

The Apple App Store app on a smartphone arranged in New York, US, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. The US S...
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A new rule for the Apple App Store means iPhone users will now have the ability to emulate old games on their powerful mobile devices. But barely a week after the rule has taken effect, Apple has already stumbled in a very visible way.

Over the weekend, a functioning Game Boy emulator called the iGBA appeared on the App Store. The app was one of the first to take advantage of Apple’s updated rules, which now permit game emulators to appear on the digital shop. The app lets users play Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games (via downloadable ROMs) on iPhone. It quickly rose to the top of the App Store charts.

By Sunday however, the app had been removed from the App Store for violating an entirely different set of rules: the iGBA a clone of an app created by another prominent developer.

iPhone users were able to play Game Boy ROMs on their devices before Apple removed the iGBA emulator from the App Store Sunday.

Wayback Machine

Developer Riley Testut took to Threads on Sunday to explain that iGBA is based on his work on GBA4iOS, an open-source Game Boy emulator he created with a friend in 2014.

“I did not give anyone permission to do this, yet it’s now sitting at the top of the charts (despite being filled with ads + tracking),” Testut wrote.

Publishing an app based on someone else’s work violates Apple’s App Review Guidelines. Apple confirmed to MacRumors senior reporter Joe Rossignol that iGBA was removed for specifically going against its rules on spam and copyright.

“To be clear, I’m not pissed at the developer,” Testut continued. “I’m pissed that Apple took the time to change the App Store rules to allow emulators, and then approved a knock-off of my own app.”

The iPhone is more than capable of running old Nintendo Game Boy games.

Wikimedia Commons

Testut is right to be frustrated. There have been plenty of ways of getting around the iPhone’s strict operating system when it comes to playing retro games. But with those methods now being integrated into Apple’s platform (a feature Android phones have had for years), the tech giant must do a better job monitoring what programs are made available.

The world of emulators is already on precarious moral grounds. The software that can emulate the inner workings of old video game consoles is completely legal. However, it’s illegal to play game files or ROMs without owning a physical version of the game (despite entire game libraries being readily available online). So long as app developers don’t provide any copyrighted game files with the emulator, the app should have the all-clear to appear on the app store. Opportunistic app developers looking to make a quick buck off someone else’s work will only complicate what is all-new territory for Apple.

Neither Apple nor Nintendo responded to requests for comment from Inverse.

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