App Store Spring Cleaning May Cause Headaches for Everyone

Even apps that work perfectly could be removed

  • New guidelines will remove old and non-compliant apps from sale.
  • Developers may have to do "fake" updates just to stay in the store. 
  • The policy is good, but Apple’s enforcement is inconsistent.
An old building filled with sand as a metaphor for deserted apps in the App Store.

Jean Winnerlin / Unsplash

Apple is about to spring clean the App Store, throwing out apps that haven’t been updated for a while—and that may include some of your favorite apps. 

Apple has started to email developers, warning them that apps will be removed from sale because they haven’t been updated recently. The problem here is that plenty of apps just don’t need to be updated. A calculator app, or a guitar tuner, for example, don’t need to change or add new features. So is this good news for customers, bad news for developers, or something else?

"The main point of this 'update' is to clean out the dead weight in the app store and remove apps that no longer function as expected, and apps that crash upon opening will be removed. I think this is good for the overall marketplace ecosystem, although it may create a shakeup in the short term," mobile app developer Will Manuel told Lifewire via email. 

Golden Oldies

Apple’s statement on the matter says that non-compliant apps will be removed after 30 days if the developer doesn’t update the app. It does not specify a time frame. However, game developer Robert Kabwe a game designer for Protopop Games, received an email telling him that his game Motivoto "has not been updated in a significant amount of time and is scheduled to be removed from sale in 30 days." The game is, says the developer in a tweet, more than two years old. 

This sounds like a nightmare, but there’s another side to the story. App developer Nick Sheriff says on Twitter that Apple’s terms "state clearly that Apps that have not been updated for the past three years or more are grounds for removal, it means they will not remove all but will remove most."

The main point of this 'update' is to clean out the dead weight in the app store and remove apps that no longer function as expected...

Spring Clean

If you've ever spent any time browsing the App Store, you’ll be familiar with the feeling you get when you buy an app, only to realize it was last updated six years ago. Perhaps it works fine but had you paid a little more attention, you might have opted for a more actively-developed app. 

Apple’s new rules are there to prune the deadwood from the store. It’s not just "outdated" apps that face the chop. Apps that fail to “function as expected” or do not follow “current review guidelines” will also be put on notice. And apps that fail to launch will be removed immediately. 

If you already enjoy an outdated app, you don’t have to worry. You’ll still be able to download and use it. The only change is that these apps will be removed from sale, so nobody will be able to buy them. 

And perhaps the most important part of these rules is the bit that applies to apps that don’t meet "current review guidelines." You know all those apps in the store that haven’t been updated in order to avoid having to add privacy labels to their App Store listing? Those are probably on their way out too. 


So what’s the problem? Apart from the case where a three-year-old app is still as good as the day it was launched, isn’t this a good policy? Well, yes, it might be a good policy, but the App Store review process is inconsistent, even capricious, in the way it interprets policy. 

An iPhone with the home screen lit up showing the App Store icon.

Thom Bradley / Unsplash

"[It] wouldn't be so bad if the App Store review teams actually knew what they were doing," said app developer Neon Silicon on the Audiobus music app forum. "It's hard enough to deal with the normal review process when submitting [a music app]. The thought that they will be doing periodic retroactive reviews really doesn't make me want to submit anything new to the App Store at all."

In theory, those old but still-great apps should be looked over by the app review team and given a pass. But in reality, it’s more likely that a blanket rule will be applied to anything over a certain age. As usual, small indie developers with good intentions will be caught up in the purge, while old games that still rake in those sweet in-app purchases (of which Apple takes a 30% cut) may end up mysteriously unscathed. 

As ever with the App Store, it’s a balance, but the history of App Review, and its weird decisions, means that this could end up causing more problems than it solves.

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