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

That's more than the total that are actively maintained, study claims

A study has found more outdated apps in Apple's App Store and Google Play than actively updated ones.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 of the announcement with developers. The iGiant last month threatened to wipe away software from its store that hasn't been updated for a significant period of time.

The report consists of data from crawls of the Android and iOS app stores to look for what Pixalate classified as abandoned apps – those that have gone two or more years without an update. Between the two stores in the first quarter of 2022, Pixalate said it found more than 1.5 million abandoned apps, amounting to 33 percent of the more than five million apps it told The Register it examined. 

In contrast, the report said it found only 1.3 million apps that had been updated in the past six months – which it terms "recently updated."

Outdated and abandoned applications are a potential security nightmare: vulnerabilities lurking in their code bases and dependencies may be discovered and go unpatched, leaving folks at risk of attack. Design automation biz Synopsys claimed a couple of years back that 90 percent of commercial applications it reviewed contained insecure or out-of-date, and likely third-party, open-source components.

Add in first-party code that may have any number of unknown bugs, and the risk posed by iOS and Android abandonware is apparent. 

Apple, Google already taking action

The two-year abandonment standard that Pixalate used is a year shorter than how Apple defines abandoned apps. 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. 

Apps that Apple flags will have 90 days to make changes before getting the boot. Even then, apps won't be removed from iOS devices, and in-app purchases will still function normally.

Apple isn't alone in its decision to begin policing abandonware, either. Google announced in early April that it would begin doing the same for Android apps at the end of 2022, albeit using different metrics. Instead of cutting unpopular apps and time-gating removal, Google will hide app pages and block installations for Android devices running OS versions higher than, or outside two years of, the app's target API level.

As with Apple's decision, Android developers will be given a chance to make necessary updates, and apps won't be deleted or cease to work for those who currently have them – only new installations will be prevented. 

The Pixalate study also suggests Apple's App Store is more heavily bloated with older and more outdated apps. Of all the iOS and Android apps studied, 58 percent of those that have gone more than five years without an update are in the Apple shop, and 53 percent that have gone between four and five years without support from their developers.

A Pixalate rep put that 58 percent in additional context for us, again supporting the idea that Apple was right to crack down: "There are more apps in the Google Play Store (~3.2 million) than the Apple App Store (~2 million), yet more apps have been abandoned for 5+ years in the Apple store." ®

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