Apple to developers: If we deleted your old app, it deserved it

Recently, several developers have complained about how Apple threatened to remove their apps from the App Store because they hadn’t been updated for a “considerable amount of time”. Now the company has responded — by issuing a press release that basically states that no one downloaded the apps anyway.

The message, released Friday night, reads in part:

As part of the App Store improvement process, developers of apps that haven’t been updated in the last three years are not meeting a minimum download threshold, meaning the app has not been downloaded at all or very little over a rolling 12-month period — a received an email stating that their app has been identified for possible removal from the App Store.

We’ve heard about those emails before — last week developers found: Robert Kabwe and Emilia Lazer-Walker reported receiving them and expressed concern that they had 30 days to update their apps or they would be removed from the store. Other developers shared similar experiences on Twitter, saying that the policies and the amount of time they were given to make changes were unfair to indie developers.

They also expressed greater concern over Apple’s decision to wipe out an entire class of apps because it thinks they don’t belong in its store. Lazer-Walker argued that games can be finished and that they can still be valuable without being a service. Kabwe expressed a similar idea, pointing out that you can still buy console games from the 2000s. To put the argument another way, Apple’s removal of these apps is a bit like removing movies from the iTunes Store, only because they appear with black bars on modern TVs (although I understand interpreting a video signal less complicated than executing code).

Apple’s explanation makes clear why, as some developers pointed out, it seemed to apply the rules inconsistently. For example, one developer commented: That Pocket God, a popular game from the early days of the iPhone, hasn’t been updated in seven years, but it’s still on the App Store. Apple actually says it’s still on the air because it’s still popular.

From one point of view, this reasoning doesn’t necessarily fit with the first half of Apple’s post, which states that it is removing old apps to ensure “user trust in quality apps” and to improve discoverability, security and privacy and user experience. After all – if an app is problematic because it is outdated, more downloads would make a bad app a bigger problem. Who will be harmed if there is an outdated app that hardly anyone downloads?

But Apple says it doesn’t want the App Store to be full of apps that developers and users alike have forgotten about. It already has enough problems to make it easy for users to find good apps as they are, and it’s easy to imagine that Apple sees removing old, seemingly irrelevant apps as a good solution.

While Apple’s post may be a slap in the face to developers who are afraid of losing something they’ve actually spent time and effort on, the company is expanding a small olive branch. The message states that anyone who will now receive a notification — and those who have already received a notification — will have 90 days instead of 30 days to update their app before it is removed. While that should make it easier for developers to save their apps, it doesn’t allow the programs to “exist as finished objects,” as Lazer-Walker put it. It seems that Apple is only interested in the finished objects that still stand out.

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