Want a retro gaming emulator on your iPhone? Apple just clarified the state of play on iOS

 Lander Denys / Unsplash.
Lander Denys / Unsplash.

Fancy playing some old-school Game Boy titles on your iPhone but not sure if downloading the games violates any regulations? Well, you’re in luck, as Apple has just clarified its rules on emulators, and the outcome might not be what you were expecting.

Over the weekend, a new Game Boy emulator named iGBA was uploaded to Apple’s App Store. However, it was swiftly taken down by Apple, with the company saying the app violated its App Review Guidelines, specifically those relating to spam and copyright.

That might have created the impression that Apple did not want Game Boy emulators appearing in its App Store, something that makes sense considering Nintendo’s strict policy against emulators. But it turns out Apple didn’t take down iGBA because it was breaching copyright rules by emulating Game Boy games – it did it because it flagrantly ripped off another app.

As it transpires, iGBA is a carbon copy of GBA4iOS, another Game Boy emulator designed for iOS, and Apple apparently told MacRumors that it removed the app for this reason. The developer of iGBA simply took GBA4iOS, inserted some ads into the app, then sent it off to the App Store, which was a clear violation of Apple’s policies. But where do you stand if you want to play some retro Game Boy games on your iPhone? Will Apple allow these apps? The answer seems to be yes – for now.

Retro emulators get the green light

A red Nintendo Game Boy Color lying on a surface.
A red Nintendo Game Boy Color lying on a surface.

According to MacRumors, Apple clarified that “emulators on the App Store are permitted to load ROMs downloaded from the web, so long as the app is emulating retro console games only.” It’s not clear what exactly qualifies as a “retro console game,” but it appears that Game Boy titles come under this remit.

Apple updated its App Review Guidelines earlier in April to explicitly allow retro game console emulators, and the first such examples started appearing just a day or two ago. However, Apple says that developers “are responsible for all such software” and must comply with “all applicable laws.”

Apple told MacRumors that it initially approved iGBA’s functionality before it realized the app was a knockoff. So, as expected, it seems Apple sees nothing wrong with Game Boy emulators as a concept (providing they are limited to old games).

We doubt Nintendo will be too happy about the situation, though, as the company explicitly states on its U.S. customer support website that it does not permit emulators: “Pirate copies of game files are often referred to as “ROMs”. The uploading and downloading of pirate copies of Nintendo games is illegal.”

For now, it looks like Apple will allow Game Boy emulators on its App Store, which is great news if you want to get your nostalgia fix without leaving your iPhone. But how long this situation will last is anyone’s guess.

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