back to article iOS, Android stores host more than 1.5 million 'abandoned' apps

A study has found more outdated apps in Apple's App Store and Google Play than actively updated ones.  Analytics biz Pixalate – the outfit behind the study, titled The Abandoned Mobile Apps Report – told The Register its figures appear "to support Apple's apparent desire to 'clean up' abandoned apps," despite the unpopularity …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Abandoned only after

    repeated changes to the infrastructure.

    There is a very simply formula we use in the industry to assess how rapacious and greedy a platform is. And it's based on the ratio of "abandoned" apps to live apps as a function of releases of OS.

    Apparently we're "wrong" - but it works.

  2. AMBxx Silver badge
    WTF?

    12 months?

    Glad I'm not expected to update everything I've written in the last 20 years every 12 months. Sometimes, something is written to do a specific task. If the task doesn't change, there's no need to tinker with the UI every other week.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: 12 months?

      Where are you getting "12 months" from? TFA talks about a time horizon of 2-3 years, not counting notice or grace periods.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: 12 months?

      Hackers are busy looking at what everyone is installing today, if you are running an app written a couple of years ago that has been "replaced" by "updates" then so many users have moved to the new versions that the hackers are not busy tracing or hacking the old apps.

      For example, how many Malware infections are there for Windows 3.0 or XP? Has WordStar ever been hacked?

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: 12 months?

      Please enrol me too in the Foundation for Finishing Software. How to you feel about T-shirts?

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Trying to buck a trend?

    "Orphan apps" are not unique to Apple or Android. A quick look at sourceforge shows that there are vast numbers of applications that haven't been updated for a lot more than a couple of years, and indeed large numbers of results returned by searches that show no even initial progress (no code present). This seems to be a general condition in the indie developer space. I guess people have a bright idea but lose interest after a while.

    On the other hand, there can be good reasons for not upgrading. The application may just do its job sufficiently well as AMBxx suggests. Several of my own math analysis programs never got 'updated'' for that very reason. Then there's the logistical issue. I currently have an open source application that hasn't been updated for almost two years - simply because we lost a key developer and haven't found a successor yet despite plenty of plans for upgrades. However the current version still works and is being downloaded, so it would be silly to withdraw it.

    1. Warm Braw

      Re: Trying to buck a trend?

      I don't know about the Apple situation, but the problem with Android is that there's insufficient attempt to ensure older apps continue to work on newer versions of the platform: if you don't actively update your software some new version of Android will break it.

      Google withdrew their original Android email client (com.android.email) some time ago and I've been manually moving it between phones as it is ideal for my purposes. I've now hit a brick wall because versions of Android >9 won't install it.

      The whole ecosystem is designed to be ephemeral because new installations and upgrades are potential monetizing events.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Trying to buck a trend?

        I use K9 Mail as I had the same problem. It seems Google are so obsessed with monetising their platform that they have no issue with breaking it in the process.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Trying to buck a trend?

        Some apps are meant to only be for specific versions of OSes... Android also has the bad habit of changing API versions and not letting developers update the apps for the old API versions only, i.e. that there are new bit (or bug fixes) for the old app on the old API version.

        It sucks, and it makes life just a little more difficult.

  4. Ruu

    Once you're a Google Play developer, you always will be.

    Once upon a time I published an Android app and it got a small number of installs. It is now impossible for me, the author, to remove the app from Google Play.

    The Google Play Developer Agreement says that Google Play has an indefinite license to your app, since they allow infinite re-installs, therefore you cannot remove your app from the Play store. Fair enough, I agreed to that once, but I also can't close my developer account.

    If you don't want to be a Play developer anymore, if you no longer agree with the ever-changing Play Store Deveoper Agreement for example, your only option is to transfer ownership of the app to another developer. Otherwise you have to keep your developer account open forever.

    If your app is rubbish, like mine, nobody wants to accept ownership, so you're stuck. You can unpublish your app so it wont get *new* installs, but you can never close your developer account as long as you have any install statistics. Never.

    So yeah; one of hose abandonned apps is by me. I wanted to remove it, but I can't.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Once you're a Google Play developer, you always will be.

      Same here - the hoops Google want me to jump through just to satisfy their stupid updates are not worth the effort. Yet, it's impossible to actually engage with the idiots to tell them what the situation is! I've tried sending messages to various places as I've come across them but absolutely NEVER get a reply. Google are pathetic, greedy and useless.

      Also, as a web developer who has made use of the Google maps API many times in the past on various sites, now, when updating those sites I am moving all mapping to OpenStreetMap because their interface is now simpler than Google's and they don't also demand credit card details up front in order to use the maps.

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Once you're a Google 'subject', you always will be.

      Google Rule 1

      Google never forgets anything.

      Google Rule 2

      See Rule 1

      Google sucks. Don't neet do say any more.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Once you're a Google Play developer, you always will be.

      Is that even legal? What happens in the event that you refuse to accept an update to the terms and conditions, if continuing with the developer account implies acceptance, but you can't close your developer account?

      1. Ruu

        Re: Once you're a Google Play developer, you always will be.

        According to the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement [https://play.google.com/about/developer-distribution-agreement.html]

        "10.1 This Agreement will continue to apply until terminated, subject to the terms that survive pursuant to Section 16.9, by either You or Google as set forth below.

        10.2 If You want to terminate this Agreement, You will unpublish all of Your Products and cease Your use of the Play Console and any relevant developer credentials."

        Support refused to delete the developer account while there were install statistics present. In the end I created a new Google account, signed it up for Google Play, transferred my app to that developer, then deleted the Google account. It is now an orphan in Google's store, I presume.

    4. Qadriq

      Re: Once you're a Google Play developer, you always will be.

      That's not true, you can unpublish apps: https://support.google.com/googleplay/android-developer/answer/9859350?hl=en

  5. RyokuMas
    Holmes

    Hardly surprising...

    The majority of mobile "apps" are games; of these, a significant number can be classed as one of these two types:

    "My first game" - typically made by a wannabe game developer who has spent too much time playing games and has read about the one-in-a-million run-away successes, and has concluded that making games is a fast and fun way to get rich, these games are usually a cludge-together of downloaded tutorial projects and assets from asset stores, possibly with a couple of extra features hacked in after multiple stack overflow look-ups.

    Reskins/asset-flips - much more polished than "my first games", these are easily spotted as, while the visuals and audio may differ, a bit of digging will reveal that it's exactly the same as other games of its genre underneath. These are mass-produced with a fast turn-round and the goal of extracting as much money from the suckers who actually pay for the IAP before whatever trend they are based on goes out of fashion.

    In either case, there is no reason for these to be updated - the "my first game" developer will abandon their game as soon as they realise they have not become a millionaire in a week and that making a game is actually hard work, while the asset flippers know that there is no point updating a game that is no longer bringing in the money it once was.

    So the App Store and Play being a dumping ground of dead apps is hardly surprising.

    1. Captain Scarlet

      Re: Hardly surprising...

      Don't forget Steam, the amount of Unity tutorial projects on there is insane

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Holmes

      Re: Hardly surprising...

      To add more perspective there are 3.3m free apps on the Google Play store from 1.0m distinct publishers and about 100,000 are added per month.

      Your analysis is spot on. It's all about the revenue stream and when that dries up the app is abandoned.

      Git rid of them.

  6. Barry Rueger

    Better idea: purge the crap

    I dread trying find an Android app to do a simple job. Does it actually work? Is it buried alive in advertising? Does it actually do what it sort of claims? And is app #1 actually different or better than the twenty-five other seemingly identical apps?

    I would honestly pay for an app store that was curated by a HUMAN BEING rather than a half-baked algorithm, with one-tenth as many choices.

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Better idea: purge the crap

      Trust is the biggest issue for me, so I rarely download any apps for my phone. All too often there are articles turning up about app X with millions of downloads that it has spyware or other dodgy stuff embedded in it either knowingly by the author or unknowingly as a hidden payload of third party components.

      Lots of downloads does not imply the app can be trusted. I certainly don't trust Google's bots to detect dodgy apps either.

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    In tribute to these automated app stores, simply automate your update

    A quick shell script that puts the current date into a getDate() function in a file which is part of your appy masterpiece, and all you have to do is run this once a year for each app and you've updated your app, and it gets to live on clogging up the stores as long as you want.

    Just proving just how lazy this crude policy really is as a quality control measure.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: In tribute to these automated app stores, simply automate your update

      Which will not work. Apple will reject your update because it doesn't do anything and Google will reject it because you didn't update the target framework to a version within the last 2 years.

      Attempting to update target framework or platform libraries automatically would be a project doomed to failure.

  8. mark l 2 Silver badge

    While I appreciate some app may stop working or be security risks if not regularly updated. There are others than still work fine even if they are 5+ years old. For example I have a basic snooker score board app that you press the colours of the balls potted and it adds up your score. Its hardly a complicated app and the snooker rules haven't changed in the decade since the app was created, so for now i can install it on my phone. But when these required updates come in if the developer doesn't update the app ill no longer be able to install it when i change phones. So I guess im going to have to extract the APK and save it somewhere to side load it.

  9. karlkarl Silver badge

    For iOS specifically; If there was an ability to properly sideload like modern platforms (we call it "installing"), many of these apps wouldn't even be on the App Store. Just happily sat on the vendors website, available for those who need it.

  10. CommonBloke

    What about shovelware?

    What's the useful/useless ratio of apps in those stores? By useless, I mean stuff that works as little more than a vehicle for advertising and/or that barely works as claimed

  11. Plest Silver badge

    Thing is most software reaches a pinnacle of attainment to the orginal goal in mind, it's not as simple as "dev can't be arsed anymore". Some libraries I work with I see haven't had more than a few tweaks in the last 2 years simply becuase they work as intended and the devs don't add in functionality that's not needed. There lies the rub, we have this obsession with expanding and adding in new functionality with often no real gain. As we all know all too well, the second you expand software to include add-ons that weren't in the original spec you know your tests will start failing and the software starts feel like it's on a swamp. If it works and does what's needed, has no security issues, leave it the hell alone if people are happy with it.

  12. iron Silver badge

    If only The Reg understood Apple's policies

    > The iGiant recently updated its App Store policy to classify abandoned apps at three years without updates, and said it would begin removing them – along with apps that had failed to meet a certain download threshold over the past year.

    This is incorrect, the policy is not to remove apps that have not had an update in 3 years or had enough downloads. The policy is to remove apps that have not had an update in 3 years AND do not meet the minimum download threshold. This makes a big difference but The Reg has misquoted the policy in every story.

    To quote Apple:

    As part of the App Store Improvements process, developers of apps that have not been updated within the last three years and fail to meet a minimal download threshold — meaning the app has not been downloaded at all or extremely few times during a rolling 12 month period — receive an email notifying them that their app has been identified for possible removal from the App Store.

  13. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    Meanwhile...

    ...in the rest of the world.

    Well over 50% of corporate desktop shared storage and web pages / applications are redundant, but nobody will pay for the catalogue/cleanup exercise which, by now, makes all the twelve labours of Hercules look trivial.

    Unfortunately, in real life, if you write XYZ[1] which supersedes ABC, unless you delete ABC it will exist <reverb>FOREVER</reverb>. Also unfortunately, you can take it as read that you will not have authority to delete ABC and nobody who does will give enough of a shit to listen to you, let alone do it.

    [1] Document / program / presentation / spreadsheet (bastard) / access database (git) / page / portal (ugh) / portlet (diediedie) / script (artful bodger) / app / grapefruit.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google

    I can't speak about Apple since I 've never used one of their devices, but on Android, any app you didn't pay for is generally intended to be an ad conduit for Google. That is all. Whether the app works or is interesting is of secondary importance, the primary importance is that it will properly show those annoying ads.

    (And am I the only one that thinks most of the ads for games are pointed insults to anyone with a modicum of intelligence? Why waste ad time (and my download bandwidth) showing the stupidest move to make in a game?)

    1. Sandgrounder

      Re: Google

      Simply not true.

      There are tens of thousands of apps created by companies and distributed for free as it provides a better / easier / faster / shinier / more persistent * way for customers to use their services.

      * Delete as appropriate

      For example:

      Banking apps

      Streaming services

      Messaging services

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Google

        I did say "generally". Yes, there are a few free apps that are useful that aren't ad-based. But even "tens of thousands" out of the millions of apps in the Play Store is still no better than 1 in 100. You "pay" for the banking, streaming, etc. apps by being their customer.

        So yes, you can dice my words as appropriate with a few corner-cases, but GENERALLY they ring true - the purpose of Free apps on Android is to provide Google an ad-distribution conduit.

  15. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)

    It's Hammer Time...

    One of the oldest abandoned apps in our stores is the hammer. The last major update, the claw, as clearly evidenced in Albrecht Dürer's etching "Melencolia I" occurred prior to 1514.

    The hammer is clearly a stale app that needs to be removed form all our app stores, as anyone with even basic grasp of a search engine can locate hundreds of vulnerabilities to break into one.

    There is even evidence, that a hammer itself can be used to break into other vulnerable apps, like glass for instance.

    Do not even get me started on the wheel…

    Disclaimer:

    I use WinAmp every day, it works, it is fit for the task, it needs no updates.

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. DrollLeek

    Surely...

    ... a well made simple app, like the one i use to tune my guitar (no Internet access, no permissions except microphone, no ads), has no reason to be updated?

    Would this decision mean that in order to stay on the app store the developer would have to make an arbitrary refactor of the code without changing functionality just to comply?

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