From 1 February 2015, it will be obligatory for all apps submitted at the Apple App Store to have 64-bit support, and be built with iOS 8 SDK. Here’s a roundup of the things that app developers need to consider, as a consequence of this announcement.
In the second half of October, Apple officially announced that newly submitted apps would need to have 64-bit support. This regulation would become effective from the 1st of February (i.e., in about a week’s time), following which, iOS developers would no longer be able to submit 32-bit apps to the Apple App Store. What else does this new 64-bit support rule mean for developers? Let’s take a look:
- Saying ‘goodbye’ to Cocos2d-x v2.x – Well, it is possible to upgrade v2.x to 64-bit – but most app development experts feel that it would be a relative waste of time/man-hours. The smarter option would be to move over to v.3. The latest version of Cocos 2d-x was released nearly nine months back, and it offers strong, stable 64-bit support. Why bother sticking with an old version of a framework, when a new one is already available?
- Learning to work with iOS 8 SDK – iPhone app developers not yet familiar with the iOS 8 SDK are already behind the eight-ball. From February 1, 2015, all new apps must be built with the built-in SDK of the new platform. In any case, with the burgeoning popularity of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus – it only makes sense that developers should start making apps that are iOS 8-compatible.
- Planning app upgrades accordingly – The 64-bit regulation would roll out to all app updates too, from the 1st of June. iPhone app companies planning to release new applications in February and looking to launch an update in June must ensure that the latter is 64-bit compliant and created with iOS 8 SDK.
- No need to worry about existing 32-bit apps – The worldwide mobile app development community heaved a sigh of relief, when it was announced that the existing 32-bit applications in iTunes would not be removed. Of course, if a developer wishes to release a bug fix update, that would have to comply with the new 64-bit/iOS 8 SDK regulation.
- Support for all processors – Another thing that iPhone/iPad app developers need not be concerned about is informing general app-users about this technical upgrade. The 64-bit iOS apps that would be submitted at the App Store from February onwards would run equally well on iPhones running on 32-bit as well as 64-bit processors (i.e., A5, A6, A7, A8 processor chips would all be supported). The new regulation would not affect the usability of new apps, whatever the latter’s device processor might be.
- Learning to work with the latest version of Xcode – Developers sticking with outdated versions of the Xcode IDE for iPhone app development would be the hardest hit, when the new stipulation comes in effect. It is of essence that all professional iOS developers learn how to work with Xcode 6.1.1 – which released in early-December. Beta 4 of Xcode 6.2 is already out in the wild too, and it is advisable to download and check it out as soon as possible.
- Considering iOS-version compatibility – Although new 64-bit iOS apps would work on devices running on both 32-bit and 64-bit processors (universal binary features), there will be a cap on the range of ‘older’ devices on which these apps will be installable. Apple experts have confirmed that iOS versions that are older to 5.1.1 would no longer be supported. Although hardly anyone has an iOS 4-powered phone at present, it won’t be a bad idea for developers to send out a general notification to users about this. Anyone who wishes to download new apps would need to upgrade their iPhones to the iOS 5.1.1 (or later) platform.
- Paying attention to early indicators sent out by Apple – Remember the extent of rumors and alleged leaks about the then-called Apple iWatch last year, prior to the official launch of Tim Cook’s ‘one other thing’, Watch? Apple have always given subtle hints and indications that something new is being planned, and the 64-bit regulation is no exception. In fact, the Cupertino company had first discussed it way back in 2013, when iPhone 5S had hit the markets. At the time, many rival companies had dismissed the 64-bit architecture as ‘unnecessary’.
- Need to start working with Unity 5 – The announcement from Apple has been welcomed by iOS game developers worldwide. The reason is simple enough – Unity 5 is in its final build stage, and 64-bit support has also been extended to Unity 4.6. If you have created a new game using the Unity framework, it would be a good idea to get it tested properly by this month, and then go for store submission.
- Using Standard Architectures in Xcode – To ensure that single binary versions of new apps are being created (i.e., those which would run on iPhones powered by 32-bit and 64-bit processors), Apple has advised developers to use the (default) ‘Standard Architecture’ build setting. As highlighted above, if you are comfortable with working with Xcode, this would hardly be a problem.
- Considering whether new apps should have 32-bit compatibility at all – At present, the only iPhone model (with iOS 5.1.1) without 64-bit support option available is iPhone 5C (free-on-contract). Mobile app companies would have to use their discretion to determine whether going for the single binary option (which includes support for 32-bit processors) would be required. For select iPhone applications, creating only a 64-bit compatible version would suffice.
- A gradual phasing out of all 32-bit apps is expected – By mandating that existing 32-bit apps won’t be dumped out of the App Store, Apple has ensured that users with ‘older’ iPhones/iPads/iPod Touch devices will still be able to download newly released applications. However, most mobile developers expect that the support for 32-bit processor handsets would be withdrawn within a year or so. In any case, the new apps will be optimized for 64-bit, and on 32-bit they might not be properly functional.
Since the 64-bit compliant Apple A7 processor (iPhone 5S, iPad Air, iPad Mini) and A8 processor (iPhone 6/6 Plus) both have high adoption rates, app promotional strategies need not be altered much. Users are not likely to be affected in any way either. Developers have to optimize their new apps – so that they a) get approved at iTunes and b) give optimal app-experience to final users.