Posts tagged with "app store"

A TestFlight Update: Patched, But Still Broken

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the poor performance of TestFlight, the app that App Store developers rely on for beta testing their own apps. Today, thanks to a couple rounds of Feedback submissions, TestFlight is working better than before, but it’s not fixed. With WWDC around the corner, I thought I’d provide a quick update and share a few suggestions for fixes and features I’d like to see Apple implement.

One of the benefits of writing about TestFlight last year was that it became clear to me that, although my use of the app was unique, I wasn’t alone. Other writers who test a lot of apps and super fans who love trying the latest versions of their favorite apps got in touch sharing similar experiences, which convinced me that the issue was related to the number of betas I had in TestFlight. My experience was one of the worst, but with others in a similar boat, I took the time to file a Feedback report to see if there was anything that could be done to improve TestFlight.

An example of a beta app set to automatically update. But at least on my iPhone, none do.

An example of a beta app set to automatically update. But at least on my iPhone, none do.

That initial Feedback attempt ultimately went nowhere. Then, I got busy and resigned myself to getting by as best I could. However, getting by was no longer an option as the Vision Pro’s release date approached. That added a significant number of new betas to my TestFlight collection. By March, the Mac version of TestFlight had stopped working entirely. With apps lined up in my review queue, that posed a problem I couldn’t work around.

I removed inactive betas using my iPhone and removed myself from testing as many active betas as I could bear. However, nothing worked, so I filed another report with the black box known as Feedback. Fortunately, this time, it worked. After some back-and-forth sharing logs and screen recordings of TestFlight failing to load any content, I received a message that something had been adjusted on Apple’s end to shake things loose. Just like that, TestFlight was working again, although sluggishly.

TestFlight once again loads betas on my Mac, but not always with icons.

TestFlight once again loads betas on my Mac, but not always with icons.

My immediate problem is fixed, and I’ve been managing old betas more carefully to avoid a repeat of what happened on the Mac before. However, it’s clear that TestFlight needs more than just the quick fix that solved the worst of my problems. First of all, although TestFlight works again on my Mac, it’s slow to load on all OSes and clearly in need of work to allow it to handle larger beta collections more gracefully. And there’s a lot of other low-hanging fruit that would make managing large beta collections better on every OS, including:

  • the addition of a search field to make it easier to quickly locate a particular app
  • sorting by multiple criteria like developer, app name, and app category
  • filtering to allow users to only display installed or uninstalled betas
  • a single toggle in the Settings app to turn off all existing and future email notifications of new beta releases
  • attention to the automatic installation of beta updates, which has never worked consistently for me
  • a versioning system that allows users to see whether the App Store version of an app has caught up to its beta releases
  • automatic installation of betas after an OS update or ‘factory restore’ because currently, those apps’ icons are installed, but they are not useable until they’re manually re-installed from TestFlight one-by-one

It’s time for Apple to spend some time updating TestFlight beyond the band-aid fix that got it working again for me. It’s been a full decade since Apple acquired TestFlight. Today, the app is crucial to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and visionOS development, and while it’s not as critical to macOS development, it’s used more often than not by Mac developers, too. Apple has gone to great lengths to explain the benefits of its developer program to justify its App Store commissions generally and the Core Technology Fee in the EU specifically. TestFlight is just one piece of that program, but it’s an important one that has been neglected for too long and no longer squares with the company’s professed commitment to developers.


AppStories, Episode 382 – A Roomful of Suits: AltStore and Delta with Riley Testut

This week on AppStories, we are joined by Riley Testut for a conversation about the history of AltStore from side-loaded app to official alternative app marketplace in the EU and Delta’s dominance of the Top Free App chart in the US and elsewhere..


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An Interview with Riley Testut


On AppStories+, I propose an optimistic perspective on iOS gaming.

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Every App Tells a Story Worth Preserving, Even Warren Buffet’s Paper Wizard

You're Warren, and your job is to deliver newspapers.

You’re Warren, and your job is to deliver newspapers.

Apple anniversaries come and go. Some mark important milestones in the company’s history. Others celebrate products that have had outsized impacts on the world. Both have their place, but I prefer Door Number 3: Weird Apple Anniversaries.

That’s why today, on its fifth anniversary, it’s worth taking a moment to solemnly reflect on the legacy of one of Apple’s least culturally significant software releases ever: Warren Buffet’s Paper Wizard. I regret to say that I didn’t cover Warren Buffet’s namesake paper-tossing arcade game in 2019. So, to make amends, let’s take a look back at this gem that dropped out of nowhere five years ago today.

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Apple Changes How the Core Technology Fee Works and Confirms that Its Alternative Business Terms Will Apply to iPad Apps This Fall

One of the most controversial aspects of Apple’s response to the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) was the introduction of a Core Technology Fee (CTF), which must be paid by developers who opt into Apple’s alternative business terms. Today, in a post on its developer website, Apple announced changes to the CTF and regarding the treatment of iPadOS, which was added to Apple’s DMA compliance obligations earlier this week.

The problem was that the CTF as originally conceived applied to all apps, including free apps. If a developer offered a free app and had first annual app installs of over 1 million installations, they would owe the €0.50 per installation fee, regardless of the fact they earned no income from the app. The fee, as proposed, would likewise be a problem for developers with other sources of income that weren’t enough to pay the CTF.

Today, Apple made two changes to the way the CTF works:

  • First, no CTF is required if a developer has no revenue whatsoever. This includes creating a free app without monetization that is not related to revenue of any kind (physical, digital, advertising, or otherwise). This condition is intended to give students, hobbyists, and other non-commercial developers an opportunity to create a popular app without paying the CTF.
  • Second, small developers (less than €10 million in global annual business revenue*) that adopt the alternative business terms receive a 3-year free on-ramp to the CTF to help them create innovative apps and rapidly grow their business. Within this 3-year period, if a small developer that hasn’t previously exceeded one million first annual installs crosses the threshold for the first time, they won’t pay the CTF, even if they continue to exceed one million first annual installs during that time. If a small developer grows to earn global revenue between €10 million and €50 million within the 3-year on-ramp period, they’ll start to pay the CTF after one million first annual installs up to a cap of €1 million per year.

The first change should take care of the free app scenario regardless of its popularity. The second change is designed to transition small businesses into paying the CTF. The first time a business with less than €10 million of global annual revenue crosses the CTF threshold, they won’t pay the fee. They will, however, have to start paying the fee up to a €1 million cap if the business’ global annual income grows to between €10 million and €50 million in that 3-year period. If revenue exceeds that range, the cap on the CTF presumably would not apply.

In the same post, Apple confirmed that the same EU rules that apply to iOS will begin to apply to iPadOS this fall and that a download of an app on both iOS and iPadOS will only count as one annual installation for CTF purposes.


Emulate All the Things

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors about the arrival of emulators on the App Store:

So where do we go from here? While Apple’s acceptance of emulators in the App Store is groundbreaking, and should delight many fans of retro gaming consoles, it’s an extremely limited change. Nobody really knows how Apple defines any of the words in that phrase. How old is retro? Is an old computer on which you can play games a console?

I grew up playing games on early computers, including the Apple IIe. Does the ability to open a spreadsheet in AppleWorks disqualify an Apple II emulator that would otherwise let me play Lode Runner and Choplifter? And if so, why?

I continue to be perplexed by Apple’s (intentionally?) vague designation of “retro” consoles for emulators. Perhaps the company is waiting for the market to figure itself out without having to intervene by selectively banning certain types of emulators? Perhaps rejecting requests to use JIT recompilers is Apple’s way of implicitly drawing the “retro” line?

Jason mentions another interesting point: what about emulating old computers that also happened to have games on them, or emulating old iOS games that are no longer compatible with modern iPhones? There are some precedents for old computers on the App Store: a Sinclair ZX80 emulator was recently updated with the ability to load external ROMs, and there appear or be some Commodore 64 emulators too (some of them with… questionable features). In the age of entire vintage OSes running inside a web browser, I think it’d only make sense for Apple to approve them on the App Store too.

As for old iOS games, while I agree with Jason, I’d be very surprised if Apple went down that path rather than cutting deals with developers to remaster old games for Apple Arcade. I’ve always cared about game and app preservation on the App Store, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

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Game On: Speed Running Game Emulation on iOS

Delta.

Delta.

Game emulators are nothing new to mobile phones. That is unless you have an iPhone. There’s a long history of emulation on Android and an even longer history on Macs, PCs, and other platforms. However, with ‘retro game console emulators’ (Apple’s App Review Guidelines term) now allowed worldwide on iOS, we’re seeing the iOS world speed-running game emulation. It will be a while before iOS emulators catch up to Android and other OSes, but in just over a week, there’s already been a lot of news.

It started with a Commodore 64 emulator.

It started with a Commodore 64 emulator.

The short-lived Bimmy.

The short-lived Bimmy.

  • About the same time that iGBA was being pulled from the App Store by Apple, Bimmy, an NES emulator, appeared on the Store for $0.99. It, too, was pulled from the Store within a day or two, but this time, it was the developer who pulled it, not Apple. Tom Salvo, Bimmy’s developer, told Zac Hall of 9to5Mac that he pulled the app “out of fear” and not as the result of pressure from anyone.
Delta works with a variety of classic systems.

Delta works with a variety of classic systems.

  • Then, last Wednesday, Delta, Riley Testut’s game emulator that supports a long list of older Nintendo systems and the Sega Genesis console, was released on the App Store everywhere except the EU, where it is available on AltStore. Within hours, Delta shot to the top of the App Store’s Free Apps Top Chart, where it remains today.
  • In the wake of Delta’s success, other developers have announced that they plan to bring their game emulators to iOS, including the maker of the Sony PSP emulator PPSSPP and the developer of Provenance, which works with multiple systems.
  • The rush to the App Store by emulator developers isn’t universal, however. The creators of Dolphin, which works with Nintendo GameCube and Wii games, announced that it will not be coming to iOS because Apple doesn’t allow the necessary Just-In-Time recompilers to be integrated with game emulators.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Nintendo. The company is notoriously protective of its intellectual property. And, although Nintendo has not sought to restrict the availability of emulators for its oldest systems, it aggressively pursued the makers of Yuzu, a Switch emulator, which resulted in the emulator being forced from the Internet with other emulators following suit. So, while emulators for early Nintendo systems have been available elsewhere for years, the sudden mainstream popularity of Delta on the App Store could draw an unwanted reexamination of emulators by the company. My hope is that instead of litigation, the new crop of iOS emulators spurs Nintendo to offer older games on the App Store and via other channels, but history isn’t on the side of my hopes and dreams.


Emulators Will Change the App Store Forever

Delta for iOS.

Delta for iOS.

Writing at his personal blog, Brendon Bigley explains why the Delta emulator launching on the App Store is a big deal for retrogaming fans who also love native iOS apps:

AltStore for me (and many) was just a way to get access to Delta, which is the best emulator on iOS by a pretty shocking margin. While there are admittedly more feature-rich apps like RetroArch out there, no other app feels made for iPhone in the way Delta does. With a slick iOS-friendly user interface, custom themes and designs to reskin your experience, and the ability to grab game files from iCloud, Delta always represented what’s possible what a talented app developer could do if the App Store was even slightly more open. It’s in this possibility space where I likely never switch to Android again.

I posted this on Threads and Mastodon, but I was able to start playing old save files from my own copies of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Pokémon Ruby in 30 seconds thanks to Delta.

Years ago, one of my (many) lockdown projects involved ripping my own Game Boy Advance game collection using a GB Operator. I did that and saved all my games and associated save files in iCloud Drive, thinking they’d be useful someday. Today, because Delta is a great iOS citizen that integrates with the Files picker, I just had to select multiple .gba files in iCloud Drive to add them to Delta. Then, since Delta also supports context menus, I long-pressed each game to import my own save files, previously ripped by the GB Operator. And that’s how I can now continue playing games from 20 years ago…on my iPhone. And those are just two aspects of the all-encompassing Delta experience, which includes Dropbox sync, controller support, haptic feedback, and lots more.

Brendon also wraps up the story with a question I’m pondering myself:

How does Nintendo react to the news that despite their desire to fight game preservation at all costs, people are nonetheless still enjoying the very games that built their business in the first place?

I’ll never get over the fact that Nintendo turned the glorious Virtual Console into a subscription service that is randomly updated and not available on mobile devices at all. I’m curious to see if Nintendo will have any sort of response to emulators on iOS; personally, I know that Delta is going to be my new default for all Game Boy/DS emulation needs going forward.

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AltStore Is Now Available in the EU

It’s been ready for a while, but today, AltStore is finally available for iOS users in the EU.

Riley Testus, one of AltStore’s founders, had this to say about the launch:

This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for over 10 years.

I’m thrilled to announce a brand new version of AltStore — AltStore PAL — is launching TODAY as an Apple-approved alternative app marketplace in the EU. AltStore PAL is an open-source app store made specifically for independent developers, designed to address the problems I and so many others have had with the App Store over the years. Basically, if you’ve ever experienced issues with App Review, this is for you!

We’re launching with 2 apps initially: my all-in-one Nintendo emulator Delta — a.k.a. the reason I built AltStore in the first place — and my clipboard manager Clip, a real clipboard manager that can actually run in the background. Delta will be FREE (with no ads!), whereas Clip will require a small donation of €1 or more. Once we’re sure everything is running smoothly we’ll then open the doors to third-party apps — so if you’d like to distribute your app with AltStore, please get in touch.

AltStore is a self-hosted solution, meaning once it starts accepting third-party apps, those developers will have to host and promote their apps themselves. From a user’s standpoint, that means:

…there is no central directory of apps; the only apps you’ll see in AltStore are from sources you’ve explicitly added yourself.

Also, if you’re in the EU and have US and EU Apple IDs, sign into the EU one and download AltStore. Then, you’ll be able to log back in with your US Apple ID if you want, and AltStore will still work.

As Riley explains, this is a lot like Apple’s recently announced web distribution feature in the EU.

Thanks to Federico, we have screenshots.

Thanks to Federico, we have screenshots.

The AltStore team envisions their marketplace as a place for apps from indie developers and those that Apple won’t allow on the App Store, like the team’s Clip app. AltStore will use Patreon donations as its payment system for paid apps, just like AltStore and Delta have been doing for years. Also, AltStore will not take a commission on Patreon donations. However, AltStore will cost €1.50/year to cover Apple’s Core Technology Fee.

It’s exciting to see AltStore live in the EU. I wish it were available in the US too, and I recommend reading Riley’s blog post about what motivated him build AltStore. It’s about more than videogame emulators, which I love. That’s maybe where AltStore started, but it’s about the iOS indie developer community, which I love even more.


AppStories, Episode 378 – Are We Entering a Post-App World?

This week on AppStories, we explore whether we’re experiencing the beginning of the end of apps and consider what might replace them.


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Are We Entering a Post-App World?


On AppStories+, we explain why we’ve said goodbye to time tracking.

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