[Update]: Riley Testut has published a new post on his personal blog adding some additional detail to this saga. It's definitely worth a read.
Everyone loves retro game emulators on iOS -- well, almost everyone -- but the ability to easily install them looks like it's about to meet an end thanks to Apple's upcoming iOS 8.1 update. According to those who have tested the soon-to-be-released software, the update blocks an often-used exploit that many emulators use to allow installation on non-jailbroken devices.
The trick involves changing the date within the iOS settings prior to installing the emulator apps in question. Riley Testut, a longtime iOS emulator aficionado and one of the creators of the beloved GBA4iOS app, offers a succinct summary of how the exploit works.
"If the device's date was off by a certain amount (approximately 75 minutes in our testing), iOS would fail to perform a security check on the launched app," Testut explains. "Rather than defaulting to preventing the app from opening (as we would assume), it instead defaulted to allowing the app to open, possibly as a fallback to prevent a normal user's officially obtained apps from not opening under certain conditions."
In short, it was Apple's own failsafe that allowed the unofficial apps to be used in the first place. Now that the hole has been plugged, and the apps will no longer open simply by default, it could spell an early end for the iOS emulator scene on non-jailbroken devices. There is, of course, always the possibility that Apple will reverse the change, though as Testut himself admitted to me, the chances of that happening are quite slim.
So where do we go from here? Emulators will of course continue to thrive on jailbroken iPhones and iPads, and anyone who doesn't update to iOS 8.1 will still be able to utilize the date exploit to install apps like GBA4iOS. Unfortunately, with Apple adding hotly anticipated features like Apple Pay in impending updates, refusing to install new iOS versions is tough stand to make.
As for GBA4iOS specifically, development will push on. Testut promises that version 2.1 is still on its way and notes that the open source nature of the app and others like it will allow anyone dedicated enough to compile it themselves will still be able to install it manually on their own devices. So for now, don't call the iOS emulation scene dead, but it might be on life support.