Critically Endangered small

Apps created for smartphones. Many are deprecated quickly but others survive through multiple update cycles. It is hard to maintain version control and often dependent upon the company that publishes them. There is no clear agency or mandate to record or collect.

Group: Apps

Trend in 2021:

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

No Change

Previously: Critically Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within twelve months, detailed assessment is a priority.

Significance of Loss

The loss of data, tools or services within this group would be felt globally.

Effort to Preserve

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed the material will likely have been lost.


London 2012 app; BBC Olympic app; Apps published for Apple iOS 10 or earlier

‘Practically Extinct’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Device dependence; poor documentation; uncertainty over IPR; short term contracts; lack of skills, commitment or policy from corporate owners; rapid churn of OS; shifting business requirements of app resellers; dependence on exotic or obsolete formats or OS processes;

‘Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Strong documentation; version control for code and compiled app; emulation enabled; designated repository taking preservation responsibility and capable to deliver

2021 Review

This entry was added in 2017 and has been retained to draw attention to the challenges of software preservation and the extraordinary velocity of the market for apps. Given the speed of change it is hard to see how digital preservation efforts can keep pace. The 2019 Jury noted that may help to split this entry into different groups based on the platform though the risks would be largely the same. The 2021 Jury discussed this further in light of the new 2021 Smart Phone Gaming entry which can be considered a subset of this category as well as Gaming in which it is currently assigned (see Smart Phone Gaming). This is therefore an entry worth revisiting in the next review. The Jury also discussed the impact of loss; some loss seems inevitable, due to the changes that have taken place in mobile ecosystems over the past 15 years, having already rendered old apps and versions of apps inaccessible, and how important is it to preserve every update? When discussing whether there is any 2021 trend, the jury discussed covid check-in apps as examples but similarly questioned the impact of this loss (do we want to preserve every version who if in the future access to the documentation to re-create the app for a particular purpose?). The consensus was there was no significant trend towards greater or reduced risk over the last year, but this may warrant further discussion in the next review.

Additional Jury Comments

Old versions of apps are completely lost to most users: once you upgrade an app, you typically cannot go back. Perhaps iOS is more critical - at least with Android, you can often get .apk from the internet separate from the marketplace. The NSRL contains hundreds of thousands of mobile applications which are not being actively preserved but could be if a mandate existed. An extension to Legal Deposit might be possible.

The faster we act, the less we will lose. It is unlikely that there will ever be one agent with a mandate to collect and different apps available in different countries, so a network of national organizations would be needed. The companies that create these apps are the key to the licensing challenges, and conversation with them is necessary, though it would need to happen immediately in order to negotiate the right to preserve/escrow both apps, operating systems, documentation, and phone development emulators.

Apps often provide a secondary view of the primary data, and in many cases, that data is more important and arguably easier to preserve. So, although this is an eye-catching entry, it is not as significant as others.

It depends on what apps we are speaking of. I would say we've seen the impact of ministers deleting content on their phones, some of which will be held by apps. I think a major risk here is messaging apps like WhatsApp because they capture decisions that are easily deleted, compromising accountability or transparency.

See also:

Scroll to top