For the modern smartphone user, heading over to an app store and typing in your search terms is a commonplace activity. In some ways, it can seem like the whole world is available from this search bar: whether it’s productivity tools or online games, there’s a wealth of choice. However, depending on the type of phone you have and the operating system on which it relies, you might find that you’re restricted.

Each app store has its own set of rules and its own system in place for authorizing or banning particular apps or niches – meaning that your mobile gaming potential might be hampered by decision-makers at Google, Apple and Android. This article will explain just how the app stores have created their own individual systems of control over mobile gaming.

iOS: a heavy-handed approach

Apple is well known for creating products and systems that are not particularly customizable. It’s much harder to take apart an iPhone than it is to deconstruct many other types of smartphone, for example – and jailbreaking it in such a way can cause significant problems down the line. As a result, it’s no surprise that the App Store is quite a controlled environment in which several games and other apps are actually banned outright.

In some cases, Apple’s reasons for banning something are obvious. In 2009, for example, a game app called “Slash” – which featured an image of a knife that moved as you moved your phone – was removed when a number of stabbing incidents occurred in Britain. More broadly, it is also known for being fast-acting when it comes to illegal images. Back in 2018, it removed Tumblr from the iOS store after concerns that the site was permitting child pornography to remain up.

However, in other cases, it’s not quite as clear-cut. Despite the fact that gambling is perfectly legal and licensed in many countries, the iOS App Store does not permit gambling games – and in 2018, it conducted a significant clear-out of apps on the grounds of fraud risk and law compliance. If you play online bingo or enjoy online roulette, you may have been caught up in this – and the policy doesn’t appear to be reversing any time soon.

Google Play: more relaxed?

iOS is, of course, not the only operating system out there – and it’s also the case that the Google Play store for Android and Google users can exert its influence over you as well. More often than not, however, Google seems to make its decisions based on legitimate legal grounds. Last year, for example, it decided to remove an app that allowed users to emulate PlayStation games. Psx4droid, as it was known, was widely downloaded – but in the end, it was removed from the store due to problems with copyright laws.

The same went for certain poker apps that allowed users to play poker online: one of the reasons for the demise of that app was because users who weren’t of legal age were getting on board. Gambling apps more generally have an unclear position on the Play Store: officially, Google states that it allows “content, services, and ads that facilitate online gambling, as long as they meet certain requirements”. In practice, however, there are an extensive number of restrictions placed on developers who want to do this. They have to ensure that the app meets the laws of the countries in which the app can be accessed, for example, and they also have to make it free of charge to download. Gambling apps that use Google Play In-app Billing are also banned.

It’s clear, then, that the app stores exert quite a significant level of control over how you choose to live your mobile life. From banning sites that are flouting the law to interfering in private decisions, the app stores have quite a significant amount of power over what you choose to play with on your phone. As consumer demand for apps grows, it’s possible that the app stores will be forced to reconsider their decisions – or, conversely, they may simply continue to exert control in the years to come.