A Sizeable Cleanup

Last week we got news that Apple will be starting to clean out apps “that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated.” This is fantastic news. Back in 2014 a program like this was my #1 hope in my Towards a Better App Store series. Wherein I argued that all apps on the Store should be required to keep up to date with the modern review requirements.

There are all kinds of challenges with cleaning out old apps. It is quite reasonable to argue that just because it hasn’t been updated in a while doesn’t make an app ‘bad’, however, that argument only holds water so far. After a certain point if an app is just left on the Store it will start to hurt the user experience. Determining that line is extremely tricky but there are certain aspects that are very straightforward.

The simplest are those that are objective rather than subjective. While Apple hasn’t said exactly the criteria they are going to apply, a few reasonable guesses are likely. If an app wouldn’t pass modern app review criteria and if it doesn’t function at all on modern devices. Beyond those it will get into the grey area where I expect them to (through trial-and-error) find the right balance between longevity and freshness.

As with all things I wanted to quantify the scale of this cleanup. I have no way of really knowing the scale of things with regards to functionality based criteria. But I can make some good guesses as to the more straightforward reasons to remove an app.

The simplest of which would be to see how many apps could not possibly support 64-bit. Since June, 2015 it has been a requirement that all new app updates include a 64 bit binary. It was only possible to include such a binary starting on September 9, 2014. So any app that wasn’t updated since then necessarily couldn’t pass modern review. Of the App Store’s roughly 2M apps my initial analysis showed that roughly 585,000 apps would fall short of this (or roughly 27% of apps).

Beyond that straight forward requirement things get a bit more vague. How old is tooo old? How broken is tooo broken? How long can an app go without updates before it is abandoned? These are much harder for me to guess for Apple’s policies. If they set the requirement at one year since last update nearly half of the apps in the Store would go. But that might be a bit too broad of a brush. I’d guess something more case-by-case rather than a strict age rule (except for when a new submission requirement like 64-bit is added).

Wherever the scope of the cleanup falls the results should be substantial. Both to customers who should have far fewer bad app download experiences and for developers who will be able to sell their apps in a cleaner storefront.

Of the twelve items I had initially hoped for back in 2014 around 5 of them are now in the App Store. While I could grump about the remaining 7, instead I’m simply delighted that for the first time in what feels like forever I’m seeing significant and profound progress on the platform on which I make my living. Which I must say is a fantastic feeling.

David Smith