Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) hasn’t held the title of biggest app store for three years. But despite being eclipsed by Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Play for sheer number of apps and the total user base of iOS being a fraction of the size of Android, AAPL’s App Store remains firmly in top for revenue generated. App developers love the App Store and so do iPhone and iPad owners.
But Apple appears poised to make a sweeping change, switching solely to 64-bit apps for iOS 11 and killing off thousands of older apps that haven’t yet been updated. Will that move impact the App Store?
AAPL and the Switch to 64-Bit
64-bit CPUs are able to process data far faster than 32-bit versions, and they’re able to take advantage of more RAM. There’s a catch, though. 32-bit CPUs can’t run code written specifically for 64-bit CPUs. And while 64-bit CPUs can run software written for 32-bit processors, they have to use emulation and the user doesn’t see the performance gain the more powerful CPU should offer.
Apple was the first smartphone manufacturer to switch to 64-bit CPUs, with the iPhone 5S in 2013. Every iPhone and iPad released since then has been powered by a 64-bit version of AAPL’s AX processors. However, we are now in 2017 and a significant number of apps in the App Store have not been updated to offer native 64-bit support.
And it looks as though the clock is ticking. 9to5Mac is reporting Apple is stepping up its campaign to crack down on older apps and will eliminate support for 32-bit apps in iOS 11 this fall. At this point any of these apps would fall under the App Store Improvements program launched by AAPL in September, 2016. They would also stop working on iPhones and iPads that update to iOS 11.
Trimming the App Store Clutter
Shortly after announcing that improvement program, AAPL began actively reviewing and removing apps that didn’t comply. Last October alone, the company pulled nearly 50,000 apps.
To put that in some perspective, it took about a year from its launch for the App Store to hit a grand total of 50,000 apps in 2009.
Apple held the app store lead for several years before the momentum of Android caught up. In 2011, Android smartphones took the lead over Apple iPhones in the U.S. market, in 2013 Google Play took the lead in app downloads and in 2015 Google Play took the crown for sheer number of apps available.
However, Apple has never been shy about aggressively policing its app store, because sheer numbers don’t matter any more. Bragging rights for having the most apps were important in the early days, not so much now. Despite actions like pulling 50,000 apps in a single month, AAPL’s App Store remains the most popular for premium apps and continues to dominate in terms of revenue — both for Apple and for developers.
Who Loses When 32-bit Apps Get Dumped
If a 32-bit app is a paid app, the developer and any iPhone or iPad owner who bought that app will be on the losing end. The developer because their app will be removed from the App Store and the iPhone and iPad owners because once they update to iOS 11, if 9to5Mac is right, that app will no longer be usable.
Warnings when launching 32-bit apps have been added by AAPL and are getting sterner. They first notified users that the older apps may slow their devices and in the latest developer version of iOS 10.3.1, 9to5Mac reports they state: “This app will not work with future versions of iOS. The developer of this app needs to update it to improve its compatibility.”
Apple’s own Clips app, which was just recently released, drops support for 32-bit processors. That means owners of popular iOS devices like the iPhone 5, iPhone 5c and iPad 4 can’t use Clips, even though their device runs the latest iOS 10.3 operating system.
The Writing’s on the Wall for 32-Bit Apps
AAPL will likely anger a few users who have favorite apps that haven’t been — and won’t be — updated for 64-bit support. And it’s already beginning the process of shutting out legacy hardware users from accessing cool new apps. But Apple has never been shy about this sort of thing. Trimming the app fat has only made its App Store business stronger. Cutting off legacy hardware can lead to some owner frustration, but it makes the App Store stronger (developers don’t have to support such a wide range of hardware) and helps to drive iPhone and iPad owners to upgrade to new models.
Given the many hints, increasingly strong messaging and AAPL’s pattern of operating, it seems likely iOS 11 will mark the death of 32-bit apps in Apple’s iOS ecosystem.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.