A crossed-out iPad running Windows 3.1 on an emulator.

Say goodbye to DOS on the iPad. We demonstrated how to install Windows 3.1 on an iPad on July 12, 2021, and the media coverage that followed seems to have woken the sleeping giant in Cupertino. Now, Apple plans to pull the iDOS 2 emulator from the App Store within two weeks.

Just yesterday, iDOS 2 author Chaoji Li announced that Apple has declined a submitted update to the popular MS-DOS emulator for iPhone and iPad currently available in the App Store. In a message sent to Li, Apple stated that “upon re-evaluation,” the iDOS app is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines because it can execute code, which “allows for downloading of content without licensing.”

As Li points out on the iDOS 2 website, the author has always been up front about the emulator’s capabilities with Apple, and after an approval last September, fans of MS-DOS retrogaming held up hope that maybe Apple had eased up on a longstanding ban on emulators in the App Store.

The iDOS 2 entry in the Apple App Store.

While Apple’s initial decision to allow iDOS 2 to load arbitrary MS-DOS programs surprised some in the first place, this sudden reversal puts a keen spotlight on the often arbitrary nature of Apple’s app review process. Similar criticisms have been part of the recent Epic Games vs. Apple trial.

For now, iDOS 2 is still available for purchase, and if Apple pulls it, you’ll still have it available on your iPhone or iPad but won’t be able to receive updates in the future. If Apple goes a step further and de-lists iDOS completely, it will stay on your device but won’t be available for re-download later.

So far, many commenters on sites like MacRumors, 9to5Mac, and Hacker News, have responded to this news with the same question: Why can’t Apple just let us have a good time? As John Gruber of Daring Fireball quipped, iDOS has been “cited for violating rule 11.38, which prohibits excessive harmless nostalgic fun.”

It’s true; there’s a lot of joy to be had in exploring our nostalgic past on our beloved iPhones and iPads. But there’s more at stake here than just having fun.

The Freedom to Learn From the Past

Innovation isn’t just about the future. Remixing knowledge from the past sparks new ideas and new inventions. So many wonderful software concepts from the MS-DOS era await rediscovery by new generations. They can then apply those ideas to new apps without having to reinvent the wheel. That’s how we make progress as a civilization: We build on what came before. Why not let that discovery process happen on an iPhone or iPad?

The freedom to learn from history is part of a free society. If all computers had similar restrictive guidelines on running software, a few big corporations would have absolute control over what we can—and can’t—run on our own devices.

Of course, Apple is no despot, and there are many alternatives. You’re free to buy an old PC and run Windows 3.1, or install an emulator on an Android device. A Windows 10 tablet will let you run MS-DOS emulators, and so will a Mac.

But the demeanor Apple projects by restricting iDOS on its iPhone and iPad platforms has a huge social impact because it’s the most valuable company on earth. Others model the company’s success and the message matters. Apple makes great products, and companies copy Apple because it has excellent ideas. But a world where all smartphone and PC firms imitated Apple’s capricious blocking of apps would not be a free or fair one.

Running Windows 3.1 Solitaire on an iPad thanks to iDOS 2.
Benj Edwards / How-To Geek

Apple is a publicly held firm owned by millions of stakeholders. It’s a big ship, but it can be steered in the right direction over time if enough of us make the case: We just want to have innovative fun with our Apple devices. There’s so much joy in exploring the past. Let’s not deprive ourselves of the opportunity to freely explore our tech cultural history. Future generations and our society will be much poorer for it.

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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