Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Emulation on iPhone

Mike Rockwell:

Last year I wrote an about retro gaming on iOS. I’ve had a lot of fun playing games on the platform, especially through emulation. Much of what I wrote last year is still applicable today, but I thought I’d revisit the topic with a focus on the state of emulation on iOS and all of the software and accessories you’ll need to get started.


Apple, being the restrictive little platform vendor that they are, doesn’t allow emulators on the App Store. In order to install them on your device, you’ll have to utilize sideloading. AltStore is the best method for installing and managing sideloaded applications on iOS.

What if you want to run a retro iOS game?

Alfonso Maruccia:

There’s a new iOS emulator in town, and it wants to bring 32-bit gaming apps back into a working state on modern machines and operating systems. touchHLE is specifically designed to run games “from the early days of iOS,” with a focus on iPhone/iPod touch apps for iPhone OS 2.x.


Born as a “full-time passion project” by a single developer in December 2022, touchHLE is radically different from traditional low-level emulators (like QEMU) as it is based on a “high-level emulator” design: the program’s simulated CPU only runs the code from an app binary and some needed iOS libraries. touchHLE takes the place of iOS, the developers explain, providing its own implementations of the system framework components like Foundation, UIKit, OpenGL ES, OpenAL, etc.


But then in 2017, Apple released iOS 11: the first iOS version not to support 32-bit apps. All those ancient games became unplayable on modern hardware. Nobody could buy them any more, either. Locked away with DRM, they might die with the devices that could still run them.


Anyway, I wanted to play it again. But of course, I couldn’t, not without an ancient device, which I didn’t have. And I thought, oh no, I love this game, but nobody coming after me will have the chance to.

Filipe Espósito:

Surprisingly, the tool works very well, and I was able to test it myself on my M1 MacBook Air. It was great to be able to interact with a game that took me back to the days of the iPhone 3G and the launch of the App Store.


I have been extremely careful during this project, perhaps more careful than most people would be, not to violate Apple’s copyrights so far as I can. I don’t use any code written by Apple, I have been careful to avoid reverse engineering iPhone OS itself. And in order to use the project, in order to use the code I’ve written, you don’t have to violate Apple’s copyrights. You can download the project, and it doesn’t contain anything that like, isn’t legal to distribute.

Alas, running iOS apps on a Mac doesn’t feel the same. I have not seen a way to emulate iOS on an actual iPhone.


Update (2024-03-06): Craig Grannell:

it’s quite something that we’ll be blue to run old iPhone games on an Android phone but not on an iPhone.

Matt Leidholm:

Depending on how strictly one defines “emulator”, there is at least one great one in the iOS App Store: ScummVM, the excellent reimplementation of adventure game engines from the likes of LucasArts, Sierra On-Line, and Coktel.

Update (2024-03-07): Mike Rockwell:

Wouldn’t it be nice if Apple built a “Classic” mode that was built in to iOS that emulated older versions of the operating system for the purposes of running older software?

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"What if you want to run a retro iOS game?"

Get an Android phone.

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