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Apple TV hardware storage limits will keep most emulators away

Minecraft used to be on Apple TV but was pulled

The developer behind iPhone emulator app Delta has revealed that one key limitation in Apple's tvOS is why he isn't making a version for Apple TV.

Apple TV is not short of games, since it has Apple Arcade, but an online developer conversation has highlighted how every game and every app on tvOS has to deal with a storage limitation. Each has a maximum of 500KB in which to save anything they need, from scores to saved games, or in the case of emulators, even game ROMs.

Writing on Mastodon, Berlin-based developer and author of a book on Swift, Ole Begemann, explains that more than 500KB can be saved, but at a risk.

A social media post criticizing tvOS for not allowing apps persistent storage, specifically affecting the RetroArch game emulator's savegames and data.
Developer Ole Begemann's thread on Mastodon about tvOS limitations

Even the Apple guidelines that Begemann links to describes the 500KB as "limited." Anything saved over that limit can be deleted by tvOS itself at any point when the Apple TV 4K is running low on space.

In response to Begemann, emulator developer Riley Testut revealed that this limitation has hampered him, too. "No persistent storage is honestly a big reason why I haven't yet ported Delta to Apple TV," he said.

The emulator RetroArch is available on Apple TV, but a discussion on gaming forum Resetera sparked by Begemann's thread, has users complaining about the same limitation. On Reddit, advice to new users about loading game ROMs into RetroArch includes using the cache, but as yet no comments about them potentially being erased by tvOS.

Apple's documentation explains that data stored in excess of the 500KB limitation is saved in a cache which is not purged while the game, or other app, is running. "However, when space is low and your app is not running, this data may be deleted," it says.

That cache has a limit, too. It plus all of the app's code and resources such as images and audio, must fit in a maximum of 4GB — or actually slightly less. "Do not use the entire cache space as this can cause unpredictable results," warns Apple.

Apple does note that "your app can store and retrieve user data in iCloud," and it presents that as a solution. But downloading from iCloud is slow adds a complexity to the app as it has to manage whether its data is stored locally or not.

An unnamed developer, going by the Mastodon handle Ezekiel, then claimed in the Mastodon thread that it was this storage issue that brought Minecraft for Apple TV to an end. Minecraft launched on Apple TV in 2016, but it was later pulled.