Wednesday, February 1, 2017

iOS to Drop Support for 32-bit Apps

Peter Steinberger:

RIP 32-bit emulation mode in iOS 11?

Andrew Cunningham:

Beta builds of iOS 10.3, the first of which was issued last week, generate warning messages when you try to run older 32-bit apps. The message, originally discovered by PSPDFKit CEO and app developer Peter Steinberger, warns that the apps “will not work with future versions of iOS” and that the app must be updated by its developer in order to continue running. The apps still run in iOS 10.3, but it seems likely that iOS 11 will drop support for them entirely.


Apple has required 64-bit support for all new app submissions since February of 2015 and all app update submissions since June 2015, so any apps that are still throwing this error haven’t been touched by their developer in at least a year and a half[…]

Roman Loyola (Hacker News):

The switch to 64-bit only support means that older iOS devices built on 32-bit architecture will not be able to upgrade to the new iOS. This includes the iPhone 5, 5c, and older, the standard version of the iPad (so not the Air or the Pro), and the first iPad mini.


The Ars Technica article on this issue cuts to the heart of why this is so devastating: there is tons of software--software which was really interesting and I dare say “seminal” for this important era of computing; and which is not old or outdated by any sane standard--that this destroys access to going forward, for essentially no benefit.

Apple insisted that they get to curate something of critical value, but they don’t comprehend the moral weight of that responsibility, and now want to just go around burning down their Apple-branded libraries.

It makes me sad, but there definitely is a benefit to Apple and (a smaller one) to users.


I’m not sure that this means what the article says it means. Apple was selling the iPhone 5C in India until less than a year ago. Dropping support for the new OS that soon would be uncharacteristic for the iPhone.

Instead, they may simply be dropping support for 32 bit apps on a 64 bit CPU. Having to support 64 bit and 32 bit apps one a single device forces them to ship two versions of every shared library, and is probably annoying for them in various types of interprocess communication, because, for example, CGFloat and integer types are different sizes.


The fact that those apps are still 32-bit means they’re unmaintained. The fact that they’re unmaintained means that they’re likely to break at some arbitrary OS update anyway. Even common apps like Tweetbot, by reputable developers, will break on a new major version, so your app that hasn’t been updated in years is probably going to die off soon anyway.

The only way to make sure to keep those apps open is to keep from updating iOS, and if you do that this doesn’t affect you anyway.

Update (2017-02-24): Juli Clover:

In the Settings app, there’s a new “App Compatibility” section that lists apps that may not work with a future version of iOS. Tapping on one of the apps opens it up in the App Store so you can see when it was last updated.

Update (2017-04-14): Andrew Cunningham:

Putting aside that this spells the end for all kinds of old, unmaintained games and other apps from the early days of the smartphone and App Store, Apple’s complete transition to 64-bit is a unique and interesting technical achievement. Here’s the complete timeline of the transition, to date[…]

Update (2017-06-04): Eli Hodapp (tweet):

As pointed out by TA reader Severed, 32-bit apps no longer appear in App Store search results.


Well, it seems 32-bit apps are once again searchable on the App Store. We’ll need to read some tea leaves to figure out what this means, but either way there was a good 12-24 hours where 32-bit apps vanished from App Store search. Whether this was a test for something that’s coming in the future, or just a mistake on Apple’s part is anyone’s guess.

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Are there any iOS preservation efforts going on outside of piracy? We can still run software designed for the first Macs, and a lot of that software is still available. It might be time to think about how we can ensure that the same applies to iOS a decade or two in the future.

As an aside, apparently, the Super Mario Bros. version sold by Nintendo for Nintendo's own Wii Virtual Console was actually a pirated ROM that Nintendo downloaded from the Internet. Nintendo's internal efforts at preserving their own history is so abysmal that it was easiest for them to just download a ROM from the Internet. Something to keep in mind.

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