Why Apple Wants All New Apps to Support iOS 8 and 64-Bit

Tony Zhan checks out his new iPhone 6 Plus outside the Apple store in Pasadena, California on the first day of sale, September 19, 2014.

Robyn Beck/ AFP/ Getty Images

Consumers have been slower to adopt iOS 8 than they have been with Apple’s past releases, but Apple is already making moves to ensure that the new mobile operating system takes off — at least among developers.

According to an update on Apple’s Developer site, all new apps uploaded to the App Store starting in February must support iOS 8 and use 64-bit code. On the same day that Apple released iOS 8.1 to the public, it informed developers of the new requirements:

“Starting February 1, 2015, new iOS apps uploaded to the App Store must include 64-bit support and be built with the iOS 8 SDK, included in Xcode 6 or later. To enable 64-bit in your project, we recommend using the default Xcode build setting of ‘Standard architectures’ to build a single binary with both 32-bit and 64-bit code.”

The requirement is aimed at ensuring that apps take advantage of the advances brought with iOS 8 and with the faster hardware that powers the iOS lineup. Specifically, 64-bit chips now power much of the iPhone and iPad lines, with the Apple A7 in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air, iPad Mini 2, and iPad Mini 3, the Apple A8 n the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and the new A8X introduced with the iPad Air 2.

However, iOS 8 adoption has been relatively slow so far. Users aren’t updating to iOS 8 as quickly or in such large numbers as they did with past releases. The delay can be partially attributed to consumer caution over expected performance issues, with reports noting that iOS 8 crash rates are higher on older devices.

The iOS 8 download also requires about 6 GB of space — or updating through iTunes. As Wired termed it, iOS 8 is essentially a “nerd release,” without many features that the average, casual user really cares about. Apple Pay may be the update’s most recognizable feature, but its use requires the purchase of a new phone, and HomeKit and HealthKit won’t draw users until accessories that integrate with them are readily available.

With iOS 7, consumers updated because they wanted to try out the dramatically redesigned operating system. In some cases, developers even required users to upgrade to iOS 7, so that they wouldn’t have to support two different designs for a single app. This time around, users don’t face the same pressure to update, so Apple is trying to exert that pressure in any indirect way that it can to increase adoption of iOS 8 among users and developers to prevent iOS from suffering the same fragmentation problems that plague Android.

Popular apps are very slowly making the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit, with a few developers taking the opportunity to add 64-bit support when they updated their apps for iOS 8 and the iPhone 6. Popular apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, and Instagram have yet to add 64-bit support. Dropbox and Google Chrome are two of only a handful of chart-topping apps that have already been updated for 64-bit support.

Further, 9to5Mac reports that both newly submitted apps and updates to existing apps must comply with the rules, but existing apps are only affected if their developers want to submit an update. Also, 9to5Mac says that Apple won’t remove any apps that are currently listed in the App Store, though it’s worth noting that developers won’t be able to submit any updates for existing apps if they choose not to add the required support.

With iOS 7, Apple required similar adoption of the new SDK last year, requiring all apps submitted beginning February 1, 2014 to be built with Xcode 5 and to be “optimized” for iOS 7 and its new design rules. Even updates bringing simple bug fixes and other improvements needed to be upgraded for iOS 8 to be published.

But apps and updates will also have to include 64-bit support starting in February. As 9to5Mac notes, developers can currently choose between submitting only 32-bit apps or universal binaries that support both 32-bit and 64-bit processors. Moving all apps to 64-bit will bring performance gains for new devices (any running on the A7 or A8 chips) because running 32-bit apps requires the system to load more resources into the memory.

Ars Technica estimates that an Apple A7 can run 64-bit code up to 30% faster than it runs 32-bit code, while an A8 can be up to 40% faster. For users of new iOS devices, that’s a big benefit, and 9to5Mac estimates that adding 64-bit support to an app generally takes only “a few days” of development time.

However, it’s very likely that some apps will never see another update after February 1, 2015. As with any app store, iOS has its share of low quality and outdated apps, for which developers have either ended support or will end support when they’re required to update for iOS 8 and 64-bit computing. But if a developer is still supporting an app, it’s likely that the app will be updated to take advantage of the features of iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

For iPhone owners with 32-bit devices, the rules will hopefully mean nothing. But those with 64-bit devices could see significant improvements in their apps’ performance. As Ars Technica notes, developers have had thirteen months to go 64-bit — months during which they also needed adjust to iOS 7’s new design, iOS 8’s new APIs and extensions, and the new screen sizes of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s new rules will give them the push to update their apps with 64-bit support, mostly to the benefit of users with newer iPhones and iPads.

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