Apple plans murder for planet of the apps

Apple has spent years creating a 64-bit iOS ecosystem. News that it is preparing to kill thousands of legacy 32-bit apps means the stage seems set to find out why.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, iOS 10.3, iOS 11, WWDC 2017, 64-bit
Credit: Apple

A decade since launching the first iPhone and nine years since opening the App Store, Apple now intends to annihilate almost 200,000 32-bit iOS apps. It has been warning us of these plans for some time.

What is happening

Apple first began telling developers to submit apps in 64-bit in 2014, shortly after it began putting 64-bit capable chips inside the iPhone 5s and iPads in 2013.

The company hasn’t held off on this warning, and while it has delayed the cut-off point, it hasn’t stopped telling developers to submit 64-bit apps.

In theory, this means any app released or updated since early 2015 will already be a 64-bit app.

Get the message

As a user, about the only way you have been able to tell if you are running a 32-bit app will have been a warning message that pops up:

“This app has not been updated to 64-bit. Using it may affect overall system performance.”

However, Apple will soon cease all support for 32-bit apps. As of iOS 10.3 you will find a new error message:

“This app will not work with future versions of iOS. The developer of this app needs to update it to improve its compatibility.”

In other words, this is the last chance dance for 32-bit code pending introduction of iOS 11 later this year.

Sensor Tower claims around 187,000 apps may be affected, in addition to the 47,000 apps that were removed from the store last Fall. This also means we’ll have fewer zombie apps in the stores.

A shop, not a museum

In broad terms this is fine, but there are some legacy apps that mean something to users – but it is developers, not Apple, who should hold the blame.

The App Store is a shop, not a museum, and developers who can’t update their software should voluntarily remove their apps from sale.

In some cases, developers of loved legacy apps that may not have updated them in a very long time have recently shipped 64-bit updates, even though there is no real demand except from existing fans. Smule’s decision to update the much-loved Ocarina app is a good case in point.

Why 64-bit matters

Sixty four-bit apps are maybe 30 percent faster and capable of delivering richer experiences than their 32-bit ancestors.  

The advantage of terminating 32-bit support is that your 64-bit iPhones and iPads will not be slowed down by the need to run 32-bit frameworks to support legacy apps you may not even have. App launch and multitasking should be faster as a result.

This ability to run fast code on fast processors is an absolute advantage – just look how the iPhone 6s crushed Samsung’s explosive Galaxy phone in speed tests last year as a hint of what’s to come.

Apple’s move to deploy a fully-64-bit OS and app ecosystem means it has now put a powerful, 64-bit computer inside every iPhone user’s pocket.

(One that will be running a completely different file system after iOS 10.3).

Why is Apple doing this?

Apple knows what it has doing. It has warned developers to climb aboard the 64-bit train for years. The move has been a deliberately planned and well executed strategy.

The result of this strategy is that almost every iPhone in use across the world at this moment is already a 64-bit device. Even the 64-bit iPhone SE has contributed to this.

It means that in a very short time, Apple has managed to put desktop performance inside the pocket of every iPhone users and into the hands of any Mac or iPad user.

Apple’s own actions show it has been consciously working toward this goal, with an aim to make this ecosystem ready for the introduction of iOS 11 and the tenth anniversary of the iPhone.

A new file system and an all 64-bit ecosystem strikes me as hugely significant. With the company flagging up exciting news in Virtual Reality, Machine Intelligence, and strong rumors of a tenth anniversary device, things are shaping up for a very exciting WWDC 2017.

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