Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Downloading Old Versions From the App Store

If you have an older version of iOS than is supported by an app, Apple now lets you download the last compatible version of the app (via Ryan Christensen, Paul Haddad, and Aaron Souppouris). This is great news, as I thought iOS 7 was a potential disaster in the making. Buy a song or a movie from Apple, and you “own” it and can download it on any device, any time. But buy an app, and this ability only lasts until a new version drops support for your OS, which is probably sooner rather than later. Apple’s developer tools are forward-looking and discourage support of older OS versions.

There remain some questions, though:

  1. Does the new version of the app have to be available in the App Store in order to download the old version? That is, if version 2.0 is a new SKU, will owners of older devices still be locked out of buying the last compatible version of the app?
  2. Does the answer to #1 change if you had already purchased the original SKU? For example, say you purchased OmniFocus 1.x on an iPad 1. Does it go away when you restore from an iCloud backup?
  3. What if the last compatible version was buggy, or has become so due to changes to external services that the app depends upon? There seems to be no way for the developer to submit a fix.
  4. Will this feature come to the Mac App Store? Many apps that should be able to easily run on Mac OS X 10.6 or 10.7 cannot, because of sandbox bugs that weren’t fixed until 10.8 or 10.9.

Update (2013-09-17): See also the Hacker News discussion. Also, an important point is that, with the current developer tools, if you make a 64-bit version (for optimum performance on the iPhone 5s) the fat binary will only run on iOS 7 (even though that same code compiled as 32-bit could support earlier versions).

Kyle Richter (via John Gruber):

No one ever told us [developers] about it. Let me rephrase that, because it sounds pretty entitled. No developer expects Apple to run this kind of stuff by them ahead of time. The problem is no one ever thought this was a possibility. The common misconception here is when an app is updated it is updated to add new features and maybe some bug fixes. These new features may require a newer version of iOS so old users are left in the cold. The truth is a lot happens under the covers during updates, API endpoints are updated, data models changed, multiplayer protocols changed, even legal issues are addressed.

Update (2013-09-19): Here’s Apple’s official announcement:

Previous versions of your apps are now available for re‑download by users who have already purchased them, allowing customers to use your apps with older devices which may no longer be supported by the current version of your app. If you do not wish to make these versions available, you can manage the availability of your apps' previous versions in the Rights and Pricing section of the Manage Your Apps module in iTunes Connect. Learn more.

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Apple updated the "legal issue" question to include "significant usability issue" too, likely to as a response to all this.

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