Apple’s already removed the first emulator from the App Store

App Store
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple recently changed its rules about retro game emulators on the App Store, and last week the very first ones were made available — including the iGBA Gameboy emulator. Unfortunately iGBA has since been taken down, for reasons relating to spam and copyright infringement.

While some may cry that this is Apple clamping down on emulation, despite promising to do the opposite, there seems to be a good reason why Apple pulled iGBA. Primarily because it’s been accused of ripping off an existing Gameboy emulator for iOS, and then stuffing the app with ads and tracking.

Riley Testut, developer of GBA4iOS, and its successor Delta Emulator, has accused iGBA as being a “knock-off of GBA4iOS”. They didn’t give anyone permission to do this, but someone did submit the app which is, in testut’s own words, “filled with ads + tracking”. 

Testut says that they’re not angry with the developer of iGBA, they’re upset that Apple has made the effort to change the rules surrounding emulation and proceeded to approve a knock-off app. This is despite the fact App Store apps have to pass through Apple’s review process, which is supposed to prevent things like this from happening. 

The review process is the thing Apple likes to lean on when lobbying against sideloading and third party app stores, claiming it ensures the safety and security of both the App Store and Apple customers. 

This is despite the fact there have been numerous high-profile examples of malicious apps passing through review without issue. Apparently iGBA is the latest example of that failing in action.

There had been concerns about how Apple would treat emulators on the App Store. Developers noticed that Apple’s T&Cs said developers were responsible for ensuring emulators complied with Apple guidelines and didn’t break the law — lest it be rejected. The vagueness of this, combined with the fact that emulation is something of a legal gray area, didn’t inspire confidence that Apple wouldn’t continue to keep iOS an emulation free zone.

It’s unclear whether iGBA was removed for infringing upon GBA4iOS, or if there was some other reason for it. Given Nintendo’s history of litigation against anyone attempting to profit from emulation, or any other projects that infringe on its copyright and IP, there’s always a possibility Nintendo requested iGBA be removed. It’s also possible that Apple saw that a mistake had been made and proactively removed the app to avoid future problems.

While opening up the App Store to emulation can be seen as a good thing, it’s going to lead to problems. Whether it’s cloned apps with dodgy ads and tracking stuffed in, potential takedowns from rights holders, or something else entirely. Hopefully we’re just facing an initial rush, as developers try to capitalize on the fact emulation is allowed now, and things settle down in the near future.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.