No, you can’t run a PC emulator on your iPhone or iPad, Apple says

Delta emulator screenshots
(Image credit: Delta)

In recent weeks, Apple has relaxed its vice-like grip on the App Store and has permitted various retro games emulators to run on iOS ahead of the launch of iOS 18. Now, though, the company seems to have put its foot down and is specifically drawing the line at allowing you to run PC emulators on its devices.

As reported by The Verge, at least two developers of PC emulators have had their apps rejected from the App Store. Those apps are iDOS 3, which emulates the DOS operating system, and UTM SE, which allows Windows to be run on iOS.

Chaoji Li, iDOS 3’s developer, was told by Apple: “The app provides emulator functionality but is not emulating a retro game console specifically. Only emulators of retro game consoles are appropriate per guideline 4.7.” This refers to section 4.7 of the official App Store guidelines, which states that “retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games.”

As for UTM SE, the developer posted on X that “the App Store Review Board determined that ‘PC is not a console’ regardless of the fact that there are retro Windows / DOS games for the PC that UTM SE can be useful in running.”

So while Apple is now happy to welcome retro game emulators on iPhones and iPads – we've now seen emulators for everything from Nintendo 3DS to PS1 games – it's stubbornly drawing the line at PC emulators, and that's proving a little controversial.

A lack of consistency

A close-up photo of an iPhone, with the App Store icon prominent in the center of the image.

(Image credit: Brett Jordan / Pexels)

Developers have complained about Apple’s confusing and seemingly fickle App Store review process for many years, and the latest rejections are not likely to assuage those concerns. For instance, while section 4.7 of the App Store rules states that retro games emulators are allowed, Apple has never clarified what exactly qualifies as “retro”.

“When I asked what changes I should make to be compliant, they had no idea, nor when I asked what a retro game console is,” said iDOS 3 developer Li on their blog. “It’s still the same old unreasonable answer along the line of ‘we know it when we see it.’”

It could be argued that DOS and early versions of Windows are indeed retro console systems, since they originated in the 1980s and 1990s and have been home to a number of now-classic games. Yet evidently Apple feels that they cross an invisible and undetermined line that is not explicitly mentioned in the App Store guidelines.

Despite Apple allowing retro gaming emulators – and somewhat clarifying the rules surrounding them – earlier this year, it seems that the policy is not as clear as it could be. As Li said in an email to The Verge, “In short, as the sole rule maker and enforcer in [the] iOS ecosystem, they don’t need to be consistent at all.”

You might also like

Alex Blake
Freelance Contributor

Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.