First iPhone console emulators arrive on App Store

 Apple iPhone 15 held in the hand.
Apple iPhone 15 held in the hand.

Just seven days after Apple relaxed the rules concerning game-emulating apps on its various App Stores, the first bits of software taking full advantage have appeared.

As spotted by Apple Insider, the first two apps are Emu64 XL for Commodore 64 games, and iGBA for Gameboy Advance and GameboyColor titles.

When Apple tweaked its rules last week, it was quite clear that while emulators are now permitted, copyright is still very much applied. “You are responsible for all such software offered in your app, including ensuring that such software complies with these Guidelines and all applicable laws,” the text read. “Software that does not comply with one or more guidelines will lead to the rejection of your app.”

As such, neither of the emulators come with games, with Emu64 XL letting players “load .T64 files and .D64 files as old floppy disks”, and iGBA requiring games to be sourced via the Files app.

This means that the apps are comfortably within the rules as written: no games are supplied, and it’s up to individual users to supply their own. It’s the ROMs that may contain copyrighted software, not the emulators after all, and that’s the legal gray area that emulators have occupied on other platforms for years.

That said, with the App Store a closed shop where rule enforcement is down to Apple alone, it still wasn’t clear whether the company would decide to block such apps anyway, without having to explain its working.

One theory was that the rule change would only allow for copyright holders to make their own emulation apps (think Sega, Sony or Nintendo making a retro arcade of their classic games) but the appearance of these two third-party apps shows that Apple intends to take a more hands-off approach — at least to begin with.

In other words, for now at least, emulators on iPhone will work in much the same way they behave on Android, Windows or Mac. But with nearly half of Americans using an iPhone, protective copyright holders may take an active interest in trying to get Apple to change tack in the months ahead.