What to Know About Apple Allowing Game Emulators in the App Store

Apple updated its App Review Guidelines this month to allow "retro game console emulator apps" on the App Store for the iPhone and other devices. Below, we outline everything to know about these emulators and available options so far.

Emulators in the App Store What to Know 1
This information is up to date as of April 2024, but Apple's policies could change over time.

What is Allowed

Apple told us that emulators that can load games (ROMs) are permitted on the App Store, so long as the apps are emulating "retro console games" only.

Apple would not tell us which consoles it classifies as retro, but developer Riley Testut's popular emulator Delta is now available on the App Store, and it can emulate games for the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Nintendo 64, and Nintendo DS.

Emulators in the App Store What to Know 2
There is also a Commodore 64 emulator on the App Store called Emu64 XL.

We have not come across any other fully-functioning emulators on the App Store released after the rule change, but more will likely be available in the future. Apple recently removed an emulator called iGBA from the App Store for ripping off Testut's code for Delta and its predecessor GBA4iOS, while the developer of NES emulator Bimmy decided to remove the app from the App Store to avoid the risk of legal action from Nintendo.

Legality

While a U.S. court ruled that emulators are legal, downloading copyrighted ROMs is typically against the law in the country. On its customer support website in the U.S., Nintendo says that downloading pirated copies of its games is illegal:

Pirate copies of game files are often referred to as "ROMs".

The uploading and downloading of pirate copies of Nintendo games is illegal.

Nintendo recently sued the developers of Nintendo Switch emulator Yuzu for "facilitating piracy at a colossal scale," leading to a reported $2.4 million settlement. Nintendo has yet to comment on the availability of emulators in the App Store, but Delta and its predecessor GBA4iOS have been available on the iPhone outside of the App Store for over a decade now without being shut down. Nintendo did issue a DMCA takedown notice against the GBA4iOS website in 2014, but the emulators have continued to remain available.

For those who want to abide by the letter of the law, it is generally legal to download and play "homebrew" games available in the public domain.

Top Rated Comments

vertsix Avatar
5 weeks ago
Most notably, JIT (just-in-time) compilation is not allowed at the OS-level, something Android has.

This is due to security issues, which are valid, but will affect emulation of a lot of hardware.

So Android still has the upside here, but now Apple allowing emulators removes one of the biggest reasons to use Android (if you don't care about JIT and emulating some hardware).

I'm excited what other emulators surface.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DFZD Avatar
5 weeks ago

Wish Nintendo would buyout the emulator developed without their help and release them with content available above-board.
I have a large clock tower to sell you next time you are in London.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cameront9 Avatar
4 weeks ago


Some background as to why emulators are legal.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DFZD Avatar
5 weeks ago
We all are waiting for Ryujinx. That'll make us buy the upgrade to the new iPad Pros. Apple knows it, Nintendo knows it and so does the entire portable gaming community.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Spock Avatar
4 weeks ago

If we’re doing “retro” stuff of the DS, why aren’t we doing “retro” emulation of OS X from 2004?
I would be curious to see if Apple allows something like mini vMac on the iPhone.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
klasma Avatar
5 weeks ago

When I think “retro” I think pre-PlayStation. So, roughly anything before 1995.
The N64 emulated by Delta is post-PlayStation, from 1996, and the Nintendo DS is even from 2004. So the GameCube and PS2 should be fine.

Let’s say everything before the iPhone is “retro”. Or maybe everything not newer than what Apple calls “vintage”. ;)
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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