Dear Lifehacker, I bought an app in the iTunes App Store and the next day Apple pulled it. Now I can’t get updates and I’m worried my copy of the app is going to disappear. If it does, Apple doesn’t even offer refunds. What can I do? Thanks, App Victim
Dear App Victim,
Apple’s app approval process is far from perfect, as it often lets in apps that store policies seem to prohibit while removing other apps with often no warning at all and questionable reasoning. But you know this, and you know it sucks, because when Apple screws up the approval process users get screwed. Here’s what you can do about it.
If You Want To Keep The App…
Back it up! Although Apple does have the power to remotely disable apps on your iDevice, that’s not a power it has been known to exercise. If you have a copy of an app that has been killed, you should be able to continue to use it. The problem arises, however, when you delete that app. Once it’s gone, it’s gone — Apple is not giving you another copy to download. You have to be responsible for backing up that app.
IMPORTANT: We’re assuming a copy of this app exists on your computer. If you purchased the app on your iDevice, make sure you sync with your computer and transfer your purchases so you have an actual app file available to you.
You probably understand how backing up works, as you’re just making a duplicate of a file in this case, but this is a circumstance where incremental backups are very important. If you don’t backup regularly and on a schedule, you may lose your app and find yourself unable to go back and get it. Fortunately, incremental backups are very easy to set up. In Mac OS X, you have Time Machine built into the operating system and can just turn it on. So long as you have a big external hard drive that it can use to store these backups, and Time Machine isn’t instructed to ignore your iTunes folder (you have to do this manually so don’t worry about it if you’re not sure), you’ll be in good shape. Windows users can use Windows Backup and Restore Center to set up a similar incremental backup situation. Alternatively, either platform can use Time Drive or backup iTunes with Dropbox and subscribe to Dropbox’s pack rat feature ($39/year) to keep unlimited copies file versions and deleted files.
If you’d prefer to manually backup the app, or need to find it when it’s time to restore, you’re going to need to know where iTunes keeps all the apps you download. This is pretty easy.
Windows 7: C: -> Users -> Username -> My Music -> iTunes -> iTunes Media -> Mobile Applications
Mac OS X: Macintosh HD -> Users -> yourusername -> Music -> iTunes -> Mobile Applications
Just locate that folder and you’ll be able to find a copy of the app. If you’re looking to back it up manually, just copy to another drive or burn it to a disc. If you’re restoring this app from your backup you’ll want to drag it onto iTunes instead so iTunes is aware it exists. Just dropping into the folder where iTunes stores apps won’t actually tell iTunes it’s there.
That’s it! Now your app is about as secure as it’s going to be. Some apps make it back into the iTunes App Store later on, once they’ve resolved whatever was troubling Apple, so if you hold tight you may end up with a sanctioned copy after all.
If You Want A Refund…
Apple doesn’t give refunds for App Store purchases, which is frustrating when you buy an app and don’t like it after using it for a few minutes. It’s even more frustrating when you buy an app and Apple tells you that you can’t have it, and you can’t have your money either. While there’s no miracle cure for this problem, you can actually get a refund if you employ some good old-fashioned arguing and persistance.
I’ve purchased a few apps there were removed from the iTunes App Store at some point in their lifespans and I somehow managed to lose one of them. Since I couldn’t retrieve another copy of the app I contacted iTunes support and asked for a copy of the app. I believe this is a good place to start because then they have to tell you they can’t provide you with the thing you paid for. That’s when you can ask for a refund, which they’ll deny, you’ll argue, and eventually get what you want. The refund will come in the form of iTunes store credit, but that’s better than nothing. If you still have an iDevice, chances are you’ll find a way to use the few dollars credited back to you.
When Apple removes an app, it’s really not a good situation for anybody. It’s generally PR trouble for Apple, wasted effort on the part of the developer, and — as we’ve just detailed — a crappy experience for users. You’re not going to be able to magically turn a removed app into a regular, Apple-sanctioned one, but with a little diligence you can at least keep the copy you purchased or obtain a refund.
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