Ask LH: What Do I Do When An App I Want Is No Longer Available?

Dear Lifehacker, I just got a new phone, and I went to go download an app that I had previously purchased, only to find that it was no longer available! I paid the developer good money, but it looks like the app has been taken down for some reason. So I can't install the app, and I can't get a refund. What can I do? Sincerely, Buyer's Remorse

Dear Buyer's Remorse,

It really sucks when that happens. Sometimes even some of our favourite apps wind up vanishing from Google Play or the iTunes App Store because the company or developer behind them is acquired by a bigger company, just doesn't want to maintain the app anymore, or somehow runs afoul of Apple or Google.

Unfortunately, it's just a fact of life — one we have to get used to. However, that doesn't mean you don't have options. Let's talk about how you can make sure you at least get what you paid for.

Android Users

Backing up your apps in Android is pretty simple, so even if an app you've paid for and downloaded is pulled from Google Play, you can still grab it from your phone and install it on any future phones you may own. You obviously won't get bug fixes or updates since the app is now dead, so there's no guarantee that the app will work forever, but at least you'll always have the version you own available to you. Here are a few ways to do it:

Back Up Your Entire Phone: Use an app like Titanium Backup (which requires root, but that's not difficult) to back up all of the apps on your phone, including the one you want to save. Consider making your phone backups automatic and simple, so you'll always have good, solid backups. Inside the Titanium Backup folder (either on your SD card or Dropbox, if you follow our guide) you'll see individual APKs for each app installed on your phone. Just select the one for the app you want on your new phone, and copy it to your new phone, either by emailing it to yourself, putting it in Dropbox and downloading it on the new phone, or copying it to the phone directly. Open the APK on the new phone, and you'll be able to install the app.

Back Up Your Entire Phone, then Pick and Choose What to Restore: One of my favourite backup methods is to use Titanium Backup to back up my entire device to Dropbox, like we mentioned. Then, I can install Titanium Backup on another device, point it at the Dropbox folder that Titanium Backup created on my original phone, and restore any app (or all apps) directly, no copying required. It's a little messier than just moving APKs around, but it works.

Back Up Just the App in Question: If you just want the specific app moved from one phone to the next, use a file explorer to create an APK from the app. (Our favourite is ES File Explorer, but Astro File Manager and File Expert work just as well.) Here's how:

  • Navigate directly to where your phone's apps are installed (/system/app for system apps and /data/app for user-installed apps.)
  • Copy the application file and paste it to your SD card, or share the app with Dropbox to copy it there.
  • Each app is still an APK, so if you download it to a phone that doesn't have the app installed, it'll prompt you to install it.
  • Alternatively, most file explorers allow you to view a list of installed apps, and create APKs from individual applications one at a time. The resulting APK is usually stored in your SD card, where it's easy to copy to Dropbox or email to yourself so you can get it on the new phone.

Ideally, using Titanium Backup is the way to go, since you have a backup of your entire phone and everything on it, but if you don't want to root — or you already have a file explorer installed and you just want that one application, it's probably faster to go that route instead. Once you have your app packaged back up as an APK, you can send it to the new phone using Dropbox or email like we mentioned, but we would also suggest keeping a copy somewhere safe and backed up regularly just in case something happens to the phone you originally purchased the app on. That way you always have a copy ready.

iPhone and iPad Users

We've touched on this topic before, so know hope isn't lost. Apple can pull apps from the App Store whenever it chooses. If you get a new device and add it to your Apple Account, apps that have since been removed from the app store may no longer install, and if they're no longer in the market, you may be out the money you spent on the app. Still, you have the app already on one iOS device, here's how to get it onto your computer, back it up, and then onto your new device:

  • Make Sure Your Device is Backed Up. First, your iPhone or iPad should be backed up either to iCloud or to iTunes on your computer. If it's not, plug it in and launch iTunes. When you see your device in the sidebar, right-click on it and choose "Transfer Purchases from..." (if you have the sidebar disabled, click File > Devices > Transfer Purchases from....) to get those apps off of your device and onto your computer.
  • Copy the App to a Safe Place for Future Installs. Once your purchases are transferred, visit the Apps tab in iTunes, find the app you want to back up, and right-click it. Select "Show in Explorer" (Windows) or "Show in Finder" (OS X) to reveal its file location. Then just copy the IPA file to Dropbox or any other location for safe keeping. When you're ready to install it again, sideload it. Just drag a copy back from that safe location back into the apps list in iTunes when your new device is connected. You'll need to log in to your Apple account, but once you do, iTunes will install the app on next sync.

If you keep regular iCloud backups of your device, you can always restore a new device as a copy of another device, or restore your current device back to a time when the app was still available, but you can't restore specific applications via iCloud, just entire system states.

Of course, many apps that get pulled down from the iTunes App Store appear in Cydia, so you could very well just jailbreak your iOS device and see if the app is available there instead. If you've purchased the app however, we'd suggest just backing it up first so you always have a copy.

Get a Refund

If an app has been pulled from Google Play or the iTunes Store after you've paid for it, you can always ask for a refund, either from the developer or from Apple or Google. None of those companies are specifically obligated to give you one, especially since you have the app already and can continue to use it even though you can't re-purchase it or re-download it, but Apple and Google have issued refunds for this reason in the past. It never hurts to ask.

We hope that helps you get a little extra life out of the apps you've paid for and downloaded, Buyer's Remorse! Remember, just because the app isn't in the App Store or Google Play anymore doesn't mean you can't continue to use it. As of right now at least, you purchased the app and it belongs to you — you didn't just buy a licence to use an app that's revokable when the developer or Apple or Google wants to revoke it. They may change direction in the future, but right now there are ways around it, so enjoy!

Cheers Lifehacker

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    When you see your device in the sidebar, right-click on it and choose “Transfer Purchases from…” (if you have the sidebar disabled, click File > Devices > Transfer Purchases from….) to get those apps off of your device and onto your computer.

    I thought the sidebar has gone completely in the latest version of iTunes. Is there a way to re-enable it?

    Last edited 22/01/13 8:38 am

    this is exactly why the old farts in government need to hire some young people to scratch out some decent laws for digital content, its a whole new ball and current dinosaur physical good laws just dont cover it and this is a prime example, if you buy a toaster its your for life and theres an expectancy outlined by the warranty that it will last at least "x" time or your money back, nothing like that exists in the digital realm which means situations like this occur, you've brought a toaster app with no guarantees it will last more then the 15min refund window

    it gets worse when you get into downloadable games and so on the likes of the xbox, your paying real money there for games etc that could be taken down, never playable again (legally), 2 minutes after you brought and its tough sh!t

      Most apps you pay for are a couple of dollars. If you bought a toaster for a couple of dollars you aren't obligated by law to get a warranty of very long at all. Same with apps

        thats where your wrong though, say the approximate price for toasters is around $50, paying $2 for one wouldn't come with a warranty worth anything, apps however are cheaper to begin with, say $2 is the approximate value of an app, you would ,as such, expect it to come with the average warranty on the same level (not the same as but same level) that the average toaster came with, just because the base price of an product is less doesn't mean your "investment" shouldn't be protected

        this especially goes for high end apps, if you pay $20 for an office app, its still less thena tosater but you would for certain want a warranty/guarantee that its not going to disappear anytime soon and your money go to the ether

        it seems stupid to worry so much about a $1 app going missing but theres no guarantee on ANY apps at all regardless of cost or anything, your entire library of purchased apps could be removed from the store right now and you would have no recourse.

        Incorrect. The price of a goods or service has no bearing on the legal obligations of the supplier. They are obligated by law to provide the same guarantees and service regardless of price, so long as there is a price (otherwise it's a gift).

    On IOS you can go to the App Store > Updates > Purchases > Not on this iPhone and download any apps you have had, including ones that have been removed from the App Store. Downside is that you can't search so you may be scrolling for a while before finding the app you need.

    Surely having paid for a licence for this product you are entitled to download it from another source? Since you are allowed to make copies of a legally purchased product for personal use I don't see this as different.

      it would be a grey area for sure, laws are in place to allow you to copy for personal use yes, and you may be able to source it from elsewhere if its no available legally but i almost guarantee that apple have a clause in its EULA that says if you do get the app from elsewhere your open to prosecution by them or at least they will ban you from its services, wether that ban etc would stand up in court would be interesting but do you have the money to find out.

    This is why I always do a full back-up of my phone, separate from the automatic cloud back-up that's built-in to webOS. My favourite twitter app has been abandoned so I have to manually restore it if ever I need to hard reset my phone. Fortunately it's really easy to back up and restore :)

    On Android, use App Backup & Restore ( Configure it to automatically backup apps as you install them and even keep older versions when you upgrade. Titanium Backup has more features but this one is set and forget easy.

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