Apple Drops Support For Thousands of Apps to Continue Their Relentless March Into The Future

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had quite a few surprising announcements for the world at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2017. Apple introduced HomePod speaker along with the new iMac Pro. On the software side, iOS 11 was also announced, with a bevvy of new features such as Augmented Reality, improvements to Apple Pay, Messages and more. However, there was one introduction with the potential to affect users more than anything else announced at the keynote.

On Monday, Apple announced that from iOS 11 onwards, iOS would cease to support 32-bit apps on its mobile platform. In fact, Apple is also looking to phase out 32-bit apps from MacOS to post High Sierra. This is a big deal, and its repercussions are quite significant. What it basically means is that any Apple device featuring iOS 11 or higher will no longer be able to run 32-bit apps.

So how much does this affect iPhone and iPad users, and is there a reason to panic? Let’s have a look.

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Apple iOS 11 Ditches 32-bit Apps: A Long-Term Strategy

This announcement by Apple has been a long time coming. Ever since Apple adopted the 64-bit architecture driven A7 chip with the iPhone 5s back in 2013, the clock has been ticking for 32-bit apps. The question remains, why is Apple obsoleting 32-bit apps?

The answer to this has got a lot to do with performance.

The 64-bit architecture is more advanced than 32-bit and is as such much more efficient and faster due to its ability to access and manipulate bigger chunks of data. However, to take advantage of this, the app itself has to be 64 bit. A 32-bit app may, in many cases, run the same or worse on a 64-bit processor.

For a company like Apple, who pride themselves on providing the most uniform consistent and smooth user experience, this is simply unacceptable. Apple has a long history of abandoning technology they believe is inferior or obsolete. Case in point – they recently abandoned the popular 3.5 mm headphone jack and replaced it with the lightning connector. It would seem like the same fate awaits 32-bit apps. Some of the advantages Apple stands to gain are:-

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  • Better Hardware – It would help Apple to have more control over software to improve its hardware. It would also allow Apple to free up silicon on its chips dedicated to 32-bit software. This would, in turn, allow more efficient and faster 64-bit functioning.
  • Improved Security – 32-bit apps are less secure compared to  64-bit apps. Apple has always taken its users’ security and privacy very seriously. This decision by them would only help them to continue providing the same level of protection to their users.
  • Smoother App Functionality – 32 bit apps can be slow or laggy compared to their 64-bit counterparts. This decision by Apple should go a long way to encourage developers to focus on 64-bit development. In turn, this should improve the overall smoothness of the Apple ecosystem.

But How Will It Affect Users?

While the long-term benefits of this decision by Apple are undoubted, it can negatively affect millions of iPhone users worldwide. The question is, is it only a minor inconvenience, or a something far more agitating?

If we look at the Apple App Store, there are about 187,000 apps that haven’t been updated for 64 bit since September 2013 (launch of the iPhone 5s). It is a safe bet that these apps are nearly all 32-bit architecture. This means that after the iOS 11 update, 187,000 apps could be rendered completely obsolete. These represent about 8% of over 2.2 million total apps on the App Store. The number could even be higher, as this data does not take into account developers who continued to develop 32-bit apps even after the launch of the iPhone 5s in 2013.

Most of these are older apps. Games, in particular, seemed to favour the 32-bit architecture for much longer than other app categories. This leaves few options for the end user. Most 32 bit apps have readily available 64-bit alternatives in the App Store that perform very similarly. As such, it should not be particularly difficult to find a replacement. We can also expect many developers to update their apps to 64 bit to remain in the App Store. It may not happen with all, but we can expect a generous chunk of older apps to receive updates and continue to be supported.

Another option is to avoid the iOS 11 update. This is not recommended, as ignoring updates leaves the device vulnerable. The device becomes more susceptible to security breaches and hacks. It also means that the user has to miss out on the latest features and faster performance that the new update will likely provide.

It is plenty obvious that Apple’s latest decision will only have a minor effect on the majority of users. However, some users, who are still using many 32 bit apps will be forced to look for alternatives, and abandon the app entirely. While this is an inconvenience, it is hardly a reason to panic. With only an estimated 8% of incompatible apps on the App Store right now, it is not a large proportion, to begin with. This number will only get lower as developers update their apps. Ultimately Apple’s decision is a progressive one, and will only benefit the user in the long term.

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