By Jared Newman | Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 5:15 pm
For a brief period last night, iPhone owners without jailbroken phones had access to a fully-functional Nintendo emulator. I’m kicking myself for not spotting 9 to 5 Mac’s story sooner, but it looks like the app got pulled very shortly, maybe a couple hours, after the news broke.
The app was called Nescaline, and its creator is Jonathan Zdziarski, who wrote iPhone Forensics. The $7 app included several homebrew games, but also allowed users to download more games by pointing the app to the URLs of ROM files. On his Web site, Zdziarski says an Apple rep told him the app was removed because it was an emulator. “Ironically, Apple currently has several emulators in the AppStore, so I am going with the belief that someone (likely Nintendo) probably pressured them about this particular application,” he wrote.
He’s right about the App Store having other emulators, but it’s more complicated than that. Currently, it’s possible to purchase C64, which lets you play classic Commodore 64 games, but it only found permanent footing on the iPhone after some drama involving the app’s BASIC interpreter and the ability to hack into it. More importantly, C64 maker Manomio has the rights to the games it sells. Nescaline, by contrast, opened the door to illegal game downloads.
It’s certainly possible that Apple’s trying to avoid legal hot water — Nokia attracted some unwanted attention by advertising that capability on the N900 — but I also think Apple is inclined to reject NES emulators in order to protect the App Store’s business model. When you have games that can make $1 million per month, why give people a bountiful source of free, classic games?
Given that Apple and Nintendo are now competing, I think an official NES iPhone app is unlikely. As for why Nescaline was approved in the first place, I’m thinking it was a simple blunder. I doubt Zdziarski was the first developer to submit a Nintendo emulator.