Why is Apple Dropping 32-bit App Support and How Will it Impact Your App?

Clearbridge Mobile
Jun 27, 2017 · 4 min read

Rendering 32-bit apps obsolete, Apple shifts to 64-bit only support

With the updates of the redesigned App Store and iOS 11 announced at WWDC 2017, Apple will also be phasing out 32-bit app support this Fall when iOS 11 will be made available to the public. This means that many legacy apps will no longer function at all. The answer to why Apple is dropping 32-bit app support is quite simple: to improve the performance of the iPhone.

How Does 32-bit Support Impact iPhone Performance?

Apple is expected to get rid of all the 32-bit code from iOS itself. Currently, all recent apps in the iOS store have 32-bit code along with the 64-bit code, due to the App Store regulating its submission requirements. When 32-bit legacy apps run on a device that has a 64-bit support, a 32-bit subsystem has to be loaded before the app can actually run on the 64-bit device. This affects the device’s battery, performance, as well as the memory.

The following iOS devices are 64-bit:

  • iPhone 5s/SE/6/6s/7
  • iPad Air and iPad Air 2
  • iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3 and iPad mini 4
  • Sixth-generation iPod touch
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad (2017)

Any Apple device older than iPhone 5s will be rendered obsolete, once Apple does away with the 32-bit support.

Are Your Apps Safe?

iOS 10.3, the latest version commercially available, lets users see for themselves which apps might still be running on the 32-bit support. For the majority of iPhone users, these apps will tend to be older games, “particularly those without a free-to-play business model”. With developers having little to no financial incentive to continue improving the 32-bit support-based apps that provide no significant revenue, they will likely be made defunct.

Here’s how you can check which one of your apps need the 64-bit update:

Settings > General > About > Applications

After accessing the ‘Applications’ page, users will be provided with a list of apps that they will need to delete or update from their phones. In some cases, where the 32-bit can’t be updated to the 64-bit, users will have to bid adieu to those apps. In other cases, they might need to be updated and will be prompted by the iOS system to contact the developer of that app, and see if that app can be upgraded to the 64-bit support system.

The move towards solely 64-bit app support should not come as a surprise to mobile app developers- especially those who have been developing iOS apps. For the past two years, Apple has been warning developers to update their apps that run on 32-bit support. One such warning was the compulsory inclusion of 64-bit support for submitting an app to the App Store in mid-2015. At the rate with which Apple is cutting off support for older, 32-bit supported devices, soon the 32-bit code would be eliminated as well, rendering it incompatible with newer Apple devices.

It would be wise to note that a similar elimination of the 32-bit support system will be taking place in the macOS operating system as well next year. At WWDC 2017, Apple stated that the macOS High Sierra is poised to be “the last macOS release to support 32-bit apps without compromises.” Come 2018, it would be mandatory for all apps submitted to the Mac App Store to be 64-bit. Prior to that, Apple will continue warning its users about the imminent move from 32-bit to a 64-bit support system.

Apple has always aligned its products and services with the economic policy of planned obsolescence, whereby a product is designed and developed in a way that renders it obsolete after a certain period of time. The products are “planned” to last for that particular time and no longer. Apple essentially planned for the 32-bit supported iPhone 5c (and any similarly older Apple device) to only be useful for so long. We should not be surprised with the phasing out of 32-bit support system from either the iOS App Store on the iPhone or the Mac App Store.

A Cleaner App Store

By phasing out 32-bit apps, Apple believes that the end-user won’t be affected by it, but rather developers will work to ensure that all of their apps are updated before support no longer exists. This shift is a result of Apple’s plans to remove “problematic and abandoned apps” from the App Store, which is one of its first moves to focus on app quality over quantity. Apple outlined these goals in September of last year and not even a month later, Apple was said to have removed nearly 50,000 apps from the App Store. Is your app ready for this change?

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Clearbridge Mobile

Written by

Full stack mobile app development studio. You dream it, we build it.

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