Apps Dropping from iOS 11

Cyrus Nemati for Slate in an article titled “iPhone Gamers, Brace Yourselves for the App-ocalypse”:

If you’re an iPhone user still addicted to Flappy Bird, be ready to experience withdrawal symptoms.
When Apple launches iOS 11 in September, the company will drop support for old 32-bit applications—which is most apps released before 2014. Apps that haven’t been updated by their developers to run on the more efficient 64-bit architecture will cease to work

That’s true, but this article is also completely ridiculous in its conclusions. Here’s one of the solutions that Nemati suggests:

One obvious move: Create an emulator. By creating what amounts to simulators of old iOS versions, Apple could keep its past alive indefinitely. It’s something we saw recently when Nintendo released NES Classic, a replica of its stocky first gaming system loaded with 30 cherished early games. At 2.3 million units sold, it’s a good example of an emulator being used to make a quick buck (or more) on the back of nostalgia.

Emulating the Nintendo Entertainment System is easy today on low-powered, cheap, hardware. The Classic Edition kind of made sense for Nintendo as a product, but it is unlikely that Apple would ever release something similar.

Planned obsolescence is Apple’s modus operandi. It needs to keep customers buying new iPhones with updated specs. It’s unfortunate for consumers, who may have grown attached or even paid for these soon-to-be-defunct apps, and a shame for the creators who may see their work disappear.

The idea that Apple wants people to be unhappy with their devices on a schedule is almost as ridiculous as the idea of the iPhone Classic. Would you continue to buy things from a company that make you unhappy? I think you should replace things when they no-longer meet your needs or when there are new features that would dramatically change the experience of using that object in your life.

I agree that there should be some effort to archive these old applications, Apple is rich enough to do something about it, but it is going to be difficult to do that in today’s software environment.

Here are some of the software and hardware hurdles anyone who wanted to archive old iOS software would have to overcome:

  1. What’s the definitive article? With desktop software and older console games you could pack something up in an ISO or a copy of a cartridge’s ROM and say “this is the definitive article.” That’s difficult to do with networked software that is constantly being updated. You might say that the final version of the software released to the public by the original developer is the definitive article, but I bet some people would want a prior version because it did something differently, or the first version because it represented the most raw and original idea the developer had.
  2. An iPhone Classic that is running an out-of-date version of iOS for using old applications would probably be inappropriate for a general audience as it would lack modern security and networking features for accessing any data online. Any exploits that enable jailbreaking also enable bad people to do bad things to that device.
  3. What about the iPad, would there have to be an iPad Classic Edition? An Apple TV Classic Edition? An Apple Watch Classic Edition?
  4. Could you imagine Apple going on stage during an event to try and explain a custom version of the iPhone that exists solely to run historical software? “Here’s the iPhone Classic, it only runs iOS versions up to 10.” It would confuse their messaging around whatever iPhone they’re actually trying to sell. That’s not our problem as users and developers, but it’s another reason why they would be less likely to have anything to do with such an effort.
  5. This old App Store. They’d also have to maintain an older version of their app store and review software updates for those 32bit apps that couldn’t be transitioned to 64bit.
  6. Users would be frustrated when something doesn’t work right because an underlying piece of infrastructure is gone like an API server for logging into games.
  7. Developers who are still around would be stuck attempting to support versions of apps that they haven’t worked on in years. Is every app in this Classic App Store going to have a “probably unsupported” label on it?
  8. Apple still needs to encourage developers to transition to 64bit. All of that infrastructure would have to exist while they’re also encouraging developers to update old apps to 64bit.
  9. Apple has offered emulators for desktop software to run during transitions in the past, but desktops have the power and the room to explain what is going on with older software running in emulation or virtualization.
  10. I’m not sure if a modern iPhone even has the potential performance to virtualize an older device without destroying the performance of modern software running on the same device at the same time.
  11. How do you explain what is going on in any way that makes sense to a regular person?

Honestly, I think the only people in a position to solve this are software pirates, and they are still going to have a difficult time trying to do that for all of the games and other software out there on mobile platforms. Any other group would have hurdles that are too large to jump over in keeping this old software alive. It’s a problem for every modern online software distribution mechanism. Sony’s and Microsoft’s online stores for the PlayStation and Xbox both have this issue. Nintendo’s laughable online shop couldn’t even give you access to software you purchased previously without calling their support line and begging for it until they released the Switch and you’d still lose your game saves if your Switch is lost, broken, or stolen.

Software preservation is well and truly fucked.

Your Virtual Arcade

New Retro Arcade: Neon

The virtual arcade of the 80’s and 90’s, New Retro Arcade: Neon, has been released to Windows via Steam for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive HMDs as well as regular displays. New Retro Arcade is a 3D arcade that lets you hook ROMs into virtual arcade cabinets as well as virtual consoles. It also has other attractions built-in like skeeball (invented in Philadelphia!), basketball machines, air hockey, and more. The game supports multiplayer, but ROMs won’t be shared to other players so you’re limited to the attractions. You can also modify the arcade to swap out cabinet artwork that matches the games you install along with changing the other in-game art and music.

I played New Retro Arcade back when it was a tech demo, and there is a free demo available on Steam if you didn’t get the chance. Virtual spaces have always been interesting to me since back in the day my friends worked on an avatar chat system called OpenVerse.

Playstation 4’s PS2 Emulator Disappointment

A few weeks ago there was a rumor that Sony would soon announce some kind of software support for the Playstation 4 to emulate the Playstation 2. It would be a nice favor to players since Sony very quickly dropped Playstation 2 compatibility from the Playstation 3 in order to lower the price of that console’s guts.

The rumor was based on the special edition of the Playstation 4 bundled with Star Wars Battlefront. That bundle also included a code for four older Star Wars games. Star Wars: Racer Revenge, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Super Star Wars, and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. Super Star Wars originally hails from the Super Nintendo and was actually ported to the Playstation 4, the other three are Playstation 2 games running under emulation.

This was very promising. The emulator appeared to be robust in taking advantage of modern amenities like trophies and upscaling, and generic enough in its implementation by virtually mapping the Dual Shock 4 and virtual PS2-era memory cards to support a range of games instead of just the three in the bundle. The Digital Foundry article analyzing the emulator for the Star Wars games was simply titled “Hands-on with PS4’s PlayStation 2 emulation.”

Why would Sony go to all of this trouble just for three Playstation 2 games? They wouldn’t. Surely it would be for more than just those. A Sony representative vaguely confirmed the coming emulator to Wired.

Surely, surely, surely there would be a generic Playstation 2 emulator coming along any day now where you could just insert a Playstation 2 disc and receive most of these features, maybe trophies would be limited to especially popular games.

Nope.

Instead of attempting to compete with Microsoft’s recent addition of Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One, Sony announced that they were simply offering a short list of games for download at $10 or $15. Here’s the list:

$15 Games:
Dark Cloud
Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rogue Galaxy
The Mark of Kri

$10 Games:
Twisted Metal: Black
War of the Monsters

People who had already purchased those games can’t just pop in a disc and play them, they have to be repurchased and more games are promised be added for download regularly.

It’s not completely unreasonable to charge that price for a download version of the game, and clearly it would require work per-game to support trophies, but it is incredibly boneheaded to not just drop a generic Playstation 2 emulator and leave out trophy support for games unless they are purchased again.

Almost more boneheaded is that some of these games had already been available for download on the Playstation 3 with an emulator running there, but they’ll still need to be repurchased even for people who bought those versions. I just don’t understand this strategy. Sony has been great with allowing people to purchase games online for the Vita, Playstation 4 or 3 and get the other platforms for free. They even have a goofy marketing name for it, Crossbuy. It should extend to emulated Playstation 2 games.

The only place you can still get a generic Playstation 2 emulator is on a computer with PCSX2. Using this kind of emulator is still finicky enough that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the experience. Unlike emulators for 16-bit consoles like the Genesis and Super Nintendo where you kind of just choose an emulator, find a ROM image of the game and go, Playstation 1 and 2 emulators are highly dependent upon selecting the right group of plugins to provide support for things like reading the disc, USB input, audio, and video. Sometimes this process has to change depending on the game.

Getting PCSX2 to work for your games is more complicated than sticking a disc into a Playstation 4, but Wes Fenlon has a nice introductory guide up if you’re willing to battle with the open source software and move past the disappointment of Sony’s business decision to not release Playstation 2 emulation to the public on the Playstation 4.