Apple test hints that iOS 11 will be the end-of-life for outdated, 32-bit applications

Ahead of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference today, and the expected announcement of iOS 11, the company briefly removed older, 32-bit iOS applications from appearing in the App Store’s search results. The change, which appears to have been a short test on Sunday, could have impacted a sizable portion of the App Store’s long tail. [Updated: see below]

According to data collected by Sensor Tower in March, there are approximately 187,000 iOS applications – or 8 percent of the App Store’s roughly 2.4 million apps – that haven’t been updated to take advantage of the 64-bit processors found in all new iPhones since the iPhone 5S.

64-bit applications became available on the App Store with the launch of Apple’s A7 processor on the iPhone 5S in September 2013. The company then introduced guidelines requiring all new apps submitted support 64-bit processors by February 2015, and said it would reject 32-bit apps’ updates by June, 2015.

These guidelines were also later translated into solid promises where Apple said it would remove outdated and abandoned apps from the App Store as part of a larger purge. The company followed through with these deletions, even pulling as many as 47,300 apps from its store during one month last fall.

TouchArcade was among the first to spot the disappearance of 32-bit apps from App Store search on Sunday, noting that users could no longer directly search for games like Ridiculous FIshing, Dungeon Raid, Super Crate Box, and others. (TouchArcade noticed the change because its own app was affected. Its “store-within-a-store” app can no longer be updated due to Apple’s policies that ban these types of apps from the App Store, so the move to hide it from searches would have essentially killed it.)

For a large part of Sunday, 32-bit apps were absent from App Store search, but they were still available on the store itself – that is, you could still locate them by their direct URL. If you didn’t have the URL, a Google search would easily surface it.

The missing apps then mysteriously returned – a pretty clear indication that Apple was testing the change ahead of iOS 11’s release. (Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

Apple has offered plenty of warnings to developers to update their apps, or else be left behind.

A beta build of iOS 10.3 released earlier this year, added a very specific warning that appeared when users launched a 32-bit app. The notification states that the developer must update the app to improve its compatibility because it “will not work with future versions of iOS.”

If the change goes through permanently, games will be the largest category affected. Of the 187,000 incompatible apps, 20.6 percent (38,600) were games. Educational apps (10.6 percent) Entertainment apps (7.6 percent), and Lifestyle apps (6.9 percent) would also be affected.

Update 6/6/17: Apple announced at WWDC this week that iOS 11 will only operate on 64-bit devices, making the iPhone 5 and 5C and older devices obsolete.