Apple’s Game-Changing iPhone Updates Are Here—But There’s A Catch

Apple’s Game-Changing iPhone Updates Are Here—But There’s A Catch

Thanks to recent changes in the Apple App Store, a new kind of app, previously unseen on the iPhone, has arrived: the gaming emulator. On April 5 Apple made changes to the App Store guidelines. Though some of these changes only concerned users in the EU (full details here), the update to allow game emulator apps applies worldwide.

The new app iGBA.


Well, just a few days later, emulator apps are appearing in the App Store. Onse such app is iGBA, which allows users to play Game Boy Advance and Game Boy Color games on the iPhone or iPad. That was quick. There will doubtless be more emulator apps in quick succession—this is a very big change for the iPhone.

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Two weeks ago, this app would not have been admitted to the App Store.

This emulator is aimed at simulating Nintendo devices, and mean that if you have a ROM file for a Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Color game, you can open it in iGBA and start playing it.

Let’s be clear, to avoid legal issues, you should own a copy of the game in question, and not just download a ROM from the internet, though these are widely available. Local laws differ, so check before you risk breaking the law. As Tech Radar points out: “A word of warning though: in most parts of the world, the only way to use these emulators legally is by ripping the code from the original disks or cartridges that you’ve already paid for – otherwise you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

In practice, the app works well. I played Super Mario World, a game I have owned for decades, on the iPhone and iPad. It plays in the top half of the iPhone screen. You can also turn the iPhone to landscape orientation for a larger-screen experience (though the overlaid joypad and buttons do get in the way a bit), and playing it on an iPad is easier, though it certainly reveals the limitations of the retro graphics.

Since iGBA has arrived just a matter of days after the rules changed, it’s possible we will see a glut of emulator apps descend in the near future.

However, the situation gets more complex, and here’s the catch. According to The Verge, “it doesn’t look like iGBA is developer Mattia La Spina’s own work. In an email to The Verge, developer Riley Testut said the app is an unauthorized clone of GBA4iOS, the open-source emulator he created for iOS over a decade ago… He said his app uses the GNU GPLv2 license. A Mastodon user found that iGBA does not reference the license, which may violate its terms. Despite that, he says it’s Apple he’s frustrated with, not La Spina.”

Testut says that he is planning to launch his own app, Delta, soon. The Verge goes on: “When reached for comment, La Spina did not explicitly confirm using Testut’s code, but told The Verge they “did not think the app would have so much repercussion, I am really sorry,” and added that they have reached out to Testut via email.” It’s worth noting that iGBA collects data such as location data and identifiers. As such, it may be worth waiting for Delta to arrive on the App Store.

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