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It's a familiar scene to many iPhone and iPad owners. Apps that were once trusted begin crashing with alarming frequency. Sometimes apps don't even make it past the splash screen before users are kicked back to the home screen.
New information hints that careless coders and showstopping bugs aren't necessarily to blame for the recent rash of crash-prone apps. According to Instapaper's creator, Marco Arment, Apple's iTunes App Store may be serving up corrupt app updates.
Instapaper is a popular tool that saves web pages and applies book-like formatting, allowing users to read online articles on their mobile devices at a later time and at their leisure. It is consistently one of the highest rated apps in the iTunes marketplace.
After a recent update, Instapaper failed to live up to its glowing reviews.
Arment wrote in his blog, "This didn’t make sense — obviously, Apple had reviewed it, and it worked for them. My submitted archive from Xcode worked perfectly. But every time I downloaded the update from the App Store, clean or not, it crashed instantly."
No stranger to developing for iOS or Apple's app submission process, Arment could only draw one conclusion: Apple is pushing out bad data.
"Lots of anxiety and research led me to the problem: a seemingly corrupt update being distributed by the App Store in many or possibly all regions," wrote Arment. And he's not alone. Other reportedly corrupt apps include Angry Birds Space HD Free, Huffington and Meetup, among several others.
Another corrupt app update victim, GoodReader, backs up Arment's assertions. A GoodReader support page echoes the frustrations of its users and offers the following explanation:
"After investigating this issue, we've discovered that the update itself is fully functional. It appears that Apple has recently changed something in their app distribution engine, and ever since that change there are ongoing problems at Apple's end. These problems result in a number of customers receiving a damaged binary which doesn't start after updating apps on their devices," says GoodReader.
Worse, there is little affected developers can do from their end. "Unfortunately, it means that until Apple fixes this problem at their end, releasing an urgent update to fix this issue is pointless - the issue will simply repeat itself with the new update, affecting more and more customers," concludes GoodReader.
Complicating the issue is that the most complete fix for recovering a corrupted app is to completely uninstall and reinstall the app, which can lead to the loss of files and settings. GoodReader suggests a multi-step process that runs counter to Apple's largely frictionless app consumption and update model.
As of this writing, Apple remains mum on the situation.