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Delta: The iPhone App That Soared to the Top

TL;DR: Delta, a once-banned iPhone emulator app, tops US charts after Apple’s policy reversal. Creators cite anti-monopoly pressure for the change. Delta’s success suggests users want more app choices beyond Apple’s App Store, hinting at a future shaped by government action against tech giants’ control.

The most popular iPhone app in the US might owe its success to government pressure on Apple.

Delta lets you play classic video games like “Super Mario Bros.” on your iPhone.

Apple had banned such apps for years but recently allowed them without much explanation. Delta’s creators believe growing anti-monopoly pressure forced Apple’s change of heart.

I’m not a gamer, and Delta isn’t my thing. But even if you feel the same, Delta shows the downsides of Apple’s 15-year total control over iPhone apps.

Apple’s official App Store is easy and mostly safe for downloading apps and making purchases. However, Apple’s insistence on setting all the rules has also prevented you from trying some creative technologies like Delta.

What else have you missed out on?

This question matters now because courts and regulators in the US, EU, South Korea, Britain, and Japan are trying to reduce Apple’s and Google’s app control. They aim to bring you fresh ideas and lower in-app purchase costs.

From Banned to Top App

Delta is a video game “emulator” that Apple previously banned. Enthusiasts still found ways to use emulators, which exist in a legal gray area.

Some game companies argue that emulators infringe on their copyrights because people can use them to play pirated games. (Emulators are more common on Android phones but face legal uncertainty.)

Emulators have legitimate uses, like playing your old Nintendo 64 games on an iPhone.

The surprise came in April when Apple reversed its emulator ban, as long as they didn’t enable copyright infringement.

Riley Testut has worked on emulators for over a decade. Two weeks ago, he and co-founder Shane Gill got approval to release Delta in the US iPhone App Store.

Since then, it has consistently been the most downloaded free iPhone app in the country, according to Sensor Tower.

An Apple spokesman didn’t respond to questions about the emulator policy change. But Testut and Gill believe government-mandated changes were responsible.

The pair had been finalizing AltStore PAL, one of the new, alternative iPhone app stores in the EU made possible by the Digital Markets Act. The law aimed to give people in the region more options for downloading apps and making digital purchases.

Testut and Gill think Apple didn’t want AltStore PAL, which currently includes Delta and a related app, to gain popularity while Delta was banned in the US.

“This only can exist because of regulation, and Apple had to open up a tiny bit,” Testut said.

What It Means for You

If you want to try Delta, you might need help from YouTube videos, subreddits, or a gamer friend. The app is only available for iPhones.

Even if you never use Delta, its existence matters.

It shows how government action can bring you new experiences that big tech companies might otherwise block. Delta’s success also suggests that people want more choice in how they get and pay for iPhone apps, rather than just using Apple’s App Store.

We’re in the early stages of seeing how these government actions will change our phones. But Delta’s sudden rise hints at an app future that could be quite different – and perhaps better for you.


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