Apple for 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 had not been updated in “significant time.” Now the company has the answer – by issuing a press release that effectively says no one downloaded apps anyway.

The announcement, which was published on Friday night, reads in part:

As part of the App Store enhancement process, developers are apps that have not been updated in the last three years and do not meet a minimum download threshold – meaning that the app has not been downloaded at all or extremely few times during a scrolling 12 month period – receive an email informing them that their app has been identified for possible removal from the App Store.

We’ve heard of these emails before – last week developers liked them Robert Kabwe and Emilia Lazer-Walker reported getting them and expressed concern that they had 30 days to update their apps, otherwise they would be removed from the store. Other developers shared similar experiences on Twitter, saying the policy and the time they were given to make changes was unfair to indie developers.

They also expressed deeper concerns that Apple decided to delete an entire class of apps because they believe they do not belong in their store. Lazer-Walker argued that games should be allowed to be completed 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 it another way: Apple’s removal of these apps is a bit like removing movies from the iTunes Store, just because they appear with black bars on modern TVs (although I understand that interpreting a video signal is less complicated than running code).

Apple’s explanation clarifies why, as some developers noted, the rules seemed to apply inconsistently. E.g, noticed a developer to Pocket God, a popular game from the early days of the iPhone, has not been updated in seven years, but is still on the App Store. Apple basically says it’s still up because it’s still popular.

From one angle, this reasoning is not necessarily related to the first half of Apple’s post, which states that it removes old apps to ensure “users’ trust in quality apps” and to improve visibility, security and privacy as well as user experience. After all, if an app is problematic because it’s outdated, multiple downloads would make a bad app a bigger problem. Who gets hurt if there is an outdated app, almost no download?

But Apple says it does not want the App Store to be cluttered with apps that both developers and users have forgotten about. It probably has issues that make it easy for users to find good apps as it is, and it’s easy to imagine Apple seeing deleting old, seemingly irrelevant apps as a good solution.

While Apple’s posts may feel like a slap in the face to developers who are worried about losing something they’d spent real time and effort on, the company is expanding a small olive branch. Its post notes that anyone who receives a message from here on out – and those who have already received a message – will have 90 days instead of 30 to update their app before removing it. While it should make it easier for developers to store their apps, it does not let the apps “exist as finished objects,” as Lazer-Walker put it. Apple is apparently only interested in the finished items that are still getting eyes.