With Apple releasing iOS 11 to the public in September 2017, there are many exciting opportunities for business—but also something to watch out for—as some of your apps may no longer work.

Greg Taylor, GM of Tigerspike Next interviewed Christian Glover Wilson, VP of Strategy & Technology, from our New York office, to get the inside track on this update and what it may mean for your business.

Greg: Hi Christian, thank you for taking the time to chat through these exciting updates with us. One of the announcements of course is Apple moving from supporting 32-bit to 64-bit hardwarewhich means some apps will no longer work without an update! Before we get into that, what are these ‘bits’ and why is Apple making this move?

Christian: It really comes down to the new 64-bit processors being able to handle much bigger chunks of data at a time, bigger numbers. One bit is 1 or 0, so 2 numbers; two bit processing can store four numbers, 3 bit gives you eight numbers and so on. A 32-bit processor goes up to 4 billion numbers … but that means you can only use 4GB of RAM (being 4 billion bytes). With 64-bit, that limit goes up to 16 billion billion bytes. In brief, by building for a 64-bit processor, iOS can use much bigger numbers which results in higher performance computing, as well as being able to keep adding RAM into iDevices and see the performance benefit over time.

Greg: So Apple is making the move to take their offering to the next level; it’s very much what we were expecting, correct?

Christian: Certainly. Back in September 2013, Apple added the first 64-bit iPhone (5S) and then you started seeing more RAM in their devices. iOS 10.3 introduced warnings for 32-bit apps (so apps built only using this 32-bit architecture) that they wouldn’t run well on future versions of iOS.

“The big change now, and the reason why it is so dramatic, is that those old 32-bit apps won’t run at all on the new operating system. They will need to be updated for a 64-bit OS.”

That also means that iOS 11 won’t run on 32-bit hardware. Specifically, that means iPhone 5, iPhone 5C and 4th generation iPads are not going to run iOS 11; and because of the way the Apple ecosystem moves on – the vast majority of devices are upgraded to the latest version of iOS – this means those devices are essentially retired now. They’re not end of life, and they’ll continue to work, they’ll continue to run iOS 9 or 10, but they won’t receive any operating system upgrades and there’ll come a time when they are essentially end of life and there’s no support at all.

Greg: That makes a lot of sense. Getting down to brass tacks, how will people know that their apps will no longer work?

Christian: So, there are a few ways. If you run the app on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 10.3 and above, you will receive a warning. Every time you run the app, the iOS will pop up with a message: “developer of this app needs to update it.”

Easier still, there’s a place in the Settings app, if you go to Settings > General > About > Applications it lists all the 32-bit apps on your device.

I think it’s surprising how many 32-bit apps a lot of us have on our devices (especially in an Enterprise ecosystem); there are a lot of fit-for-purpose apps which were developed to solve a particular problem but they don’t get updated as the problem may not have changed. Any of these apps that are maintained and owned actively will have been updated anyway—certainly there will have been warnings.

This is really a concern for apps that have not been updated for a long time. From a commercial app-store point of view, there are 10,000s of apps dropping off the App Store every month as Apple are going through and culling 32-bit apps. But in reality, those are apps which have not been updated in a long time anyway. So, it’s not a huge concern.

It’s much more of a consideration for an Enterprise App Store, or internal distribution of apps rather than the App Store.

Greg: Ok, so once you’ve recognised that perhaps some of your applications are no longer compliant, in layman’s terms, what’s actually involved in making them compliant? Is it a quick fix or is there heavy-lifting required?

Christian: In theory, it’s really straightforward: you open the app’s source code in the latest version of Xcode, then you flick a few of the switches in the configuration to add support for 64-bit; then re-compile the binary and you’re good to go. However, there are a bunch of things that have changed a little in how they now support 64-bit in terms of how memory management is done, etc. So, it is likely that you’ll get some specific syntax changes that you need to make before the compiler will let your app compile against a 64-bit processor.

In practise, if an app doesn’t support 64-bit, it hasn’t been looked at for a while. From a code point of view, there are going to be a larger number of things that have changed than just the requirements to support 64-bit. There are a number of elements that need to be refreshed from how the language syntax changes to frameworks to tools, 3rd party libraries used and so on.

Technical challenges aside, if a 32-bit app is worth reviewing (and not simply retiring) then it hasn’t been reviewed for a long time and so is unlikely to be fit for purpose and be making the best use of the device. Not just the hardware and software of the device but has the code been written in such a way that it performs well on a modern device, given that the app was written several years ago. More interestingly, from a UX point of view, does it still meet user needs? The likelihood of the technology ecosystem and user requirements not having changed since the app was written is pretty slim.

Greg: It feels as if it’s quite a good opportunity for businesses to take a step back and look at their apps stable. So perhaps this is a nice time to look at what they’ve got and future-proof. On that note, what are the steps Tigerspike generally goes through with a customer to upgrade their applications?

Christian: You raise an interesting point about reviewing one’s stable of apps. A lot of people are looking at the early problems they solved with an app and realizing they now have a bunch of 32-bit apps that need to be replaced. The smartest ones are considering if there is a single experience that could replace them all, not just update each experience one-for-one.

So I would certainly say that people should take the opportunity to look at their ecosystem of apps and consider if there is some solution that would allow them to retire several of those old 32-bit properties and replace them with a single overarching experience.

Of course, that is something that Tigerspike can help with too: are you having to maintain several code-bases where you could reduce your technical debt by providing a coherent app that would provide a better experience for employees and customers?

“We can help with the code review of an individual app and the digital strategy review of the app offering as a whole.”

Greg: Reducing technical debt is certainly key, and it feels like this is an opportune time to take stock. Onto a small tangent, there were a number of other announcements that Apple is bringing out with iOS 11. When we talk about efficiency in your apps stable, what other considerations should businesses be looking at, for example, new file-systems or cross-device UI?

Christian: I think there is a convergence underway and we’ve seen that slowly coming with the re-write of tvOS to support apps on Apple TV, now much more aligned to the iOS approach. MacOS with the last couple of iterations and now doubled down with High Sierra, shares a lot with iOS at technical and user experience levels. That’s one of the things that is telling about this 64-bit processor: laptops and desktops have had 64-bit processors for more than a decade now and so this is really mobile devices coming in-step with the rest of the personal device ecosystem.

Nowhere is this better exemplified from a software point of view than Apple’s file system, APFS. This is the secure file system, optimized exclusively for Flash/SSD storage, which has been in iOS since v10.3 has now been introduced to macOS in High Sierra, the latest version. This means the same file system in your new iPhone 7 is underpinning the solid state drive on your touch-bar macbook pro as well. Yet another example of Apple creating a consistent experience across different types of hardware.

The 64-bit change is really kind of the latest substantial step in that direction. It’s not just a drop of support for 32-bit apps which has been a long-time coming but I think it is recognition that the 64-bit operating system will make a similar use of resources and in a similar way as other Apple operating systems and for other Apple hardware.

Greg: Fantastic. It’s been great chatting and thank you for your insight Christian. The key takeaway is that now is the perfect time to review your stable of applications, check they’re iOS 11 compatible, and look to take advantage of the new features in iOS 11.

Greg Taylor, General Manager, Tigerspike Next interviewing Christian Glover WilsonVice President, Technology and Strategy

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