PC Emulators are Rejected by Apple from the iOS App Store

Apple began formally accepting “retro game emulators” on the iOS App Store earlier this year, eliminating the need for laborious sideloading or jailbreaking. Nevertheless, it looks like you are still out of luck if you want to imitate old PC games on your iOS smartphone.

After a drawn-out two-month review process, the most recent version of the DOSBox-based MS-DOS emulator was eventually turned down by the iOS App Store this month, according to a blog post by iDOS developer Chaoji Li:

On social media, the creator of the iOS Virtual Machine software UTM shared a similar story of being rejected from the software Store. “The App Store review board determin[ing] that ‘PC is not a console’ regardless of the fact that there are retro Windows/DOS games fo[r] the PC that UTM SE can be useful in running,” the developer added, summarizing the outcome of the rumored two-month evaluation process for the UTM app.

Apple’s App Review Guidelines revised Rule 4.7 in April, and it now states very clearly that “retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games [emphasis added].” Even for users who want to use these apps to emulate classic PC games, mimicking a more generic PC operating system is not permitted under this legislation.

Classic PC emulators end up breaking Apple’s Rule 2.5.2, which prohibits iOS apps from “download, install, or execute code which introduces or changes features or functionality of the app, including other apps.”  because that specific exception doesn’t apply to them. This means that even so-called “alternative app marketplaces” don’t provide a helpful substitute in this situation. It also applies to third-party iOS App Stores, which were recently permitted under new regulations from the European Union.

What makes a difference?

Although Apple’s App Review Guidelines are rather explicit in their wording, the logic underlying this distinction is a little more enigmatic. Why does Apple handle the concept of Delta running a NES Tetris emulator on the same device as a DOSBox-style emulator running an outdated version of Microsoft Excel differently? Is playing an emulated version of Mario Paint on your iPhone really any different from loading the Windows 95 version of KidPix Studio Deluxe?

Unfortunately, when it comes to PC game emulation on iOS, iOS consumers and app developers are now stuck adhering to this distinction without any changes. In search of a solution, users may be able to access games that are running on a desktop computer they truly own by using an iOS remote desktop application. Thousands of MS-DOS games from the Internet Archive can also be played via an iOS web browser, though you might have some trouble getting the controls and sound to function properly.