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R.I.P. 32-bit apps: why they’re going and what you can do

Appageddon? Appocalypse? Whichever name you choose, iOS will never be quite the same again

Once, there was the sense media was designed to last. These days, apps and games are relatively transient as the technology that runs them blazes into the future. The price of progress, it seems, is permanence.

Never has this been more obvious than with iOS 11. Whereas some favourites have fallen by the wayside with every major iOS update, Apple’s latest will cut support for 32-bit titles entirely. At a stroke, thousands of apps and games will effectively be dead.

To give Apple its due, notice was provided. In December 2014, developers were told to include 64-bit support by 1 February 2015 for new apps, and by 1 June for updates. During the iOS 10 beta cycle, warnings popped up whenever 32-bit apps were first launched, and became increasingly stern.

Today, an iPhone will starkly note: “This app will not work with iOS 11. The developer of this app will need to update it for compatibility.” And sure enough, if you’re running the iOS 11 beta, 32-bit apps don’t launch, an error message bluntly stating they need to be updated.

Remastering the classics

You might reason developers should just update old apps and games – and many have. We’ve in recent weeks seen updates to many iOS classics, including Mos Speedrun, Osmos, Beat Sneak Bandit, Zen Bound 2, and the original Reckless Racing. Many such titles include revamped graphics and new game modes – and this flurry of activity offers other, less obvious advantages, according to Panmorphia creator Lydia Kovalenko: “I think it’s high time for bloat to be removed from the App Store. And perhaps all these upgrades will help make visible the titles that are actively managed.”

Lydia’s own Panmorphia is 64-bit ready, although she notes we should cut developers a little slack, because updating apps isn’t a case of flicking a switch: “Those of us who develop games using engines that support multiple platforms have it the easiest, because it’s up to the provider to conform with new standards. But if someone used an older system, they may run into a ton of problems.”

There are commercial considerations, too. Jono Russell of Stick Sports notes the company’s older games like Stick Cricket and Stick Tennis still “attract thousands of downloads each week,” and so it was a “no-brainer to update them”. But Stick Cricket Partnerships “would have required significant extra development” to be iOS 11 compatible. Because of its smaller active user-base, the company “opted instead to remove it from the App Store and focus on more popular legacy titles”.

SpellTower creator Zach Gage ran into similar issues. “Unfortunately, many of my older games no longer compile, and so they’ll just disappear,” he says. Elaborating, Zach adds: “Compiling apps is a complicated process the computer automates for you; but as technology changes, code you’ve written may not correctly connect up with libraries you’ve used. It can be a lot of work to fix these connections, because they can be anywhere – and doing so isn’t always viable, given how little money some games make.” He finishes by saying it’s “sad how many apps will be gone forever,” and that we “stand to lose a lot of the history of the App Store”.

Personal collection

But how many of your own favourites will vanish when iOS 11 drops? It’s hard to say. Apple’s unlikely to press a big ‘delete’ button to instantly remove all 32-bit apps from the App Store, but titles are nonetheless vanishing by the day. And, as noted earlier, any you already have on your iPhone will cease to work when iOS 11 is installed.

You can see which apps by opening Settings and going to General > About > Applications. Anything listed under ‘no updates available’ won’t work with iOS 11 – unless the developer issues an update.

So what can you do? First, don’t avoid upgrading. Each release of iOS adds security patches, and offers compatibility with newer software. There’s little point living in the past. However, you can create your own little metal and glass museum to house classic apps.

If you don’t routinely download back-ups of iOS apps to iTunes on your Mac or PC, search the App Store or your purchased list (visit a non-apps tab, click Purchased, and select Apps). Download copies of your favourites, in case they’re later removed from the App Store.

You can subsequently repurpose an old iOS device (or grab a cheap second-hand iPod touch) specifically for such apps and games, which can be synced from iTunes. Keep this device on an older version of iOS (no matter how often it bugs you to upgrade), and avoid using Safari and other web browsers (since the device won’t receive security updates). This device will be your dedicated ‘classic’ iOS machine – but don’t hang around to make one, because old apps and games might not be on the App Store for much longer.

Five 32-bit iOS apps on the chopping block

Apps are about investment in tiny ecosystems – in many cases, you come to depend on them. It’s therefore no surprise a great many 32-bit apps have already gone from the App Store. But some interesting and entertaining ones remain.

Camera C64 (free): This camera imagines your iPhone has the graphics output capabilities of the popular 1980s home computer. Throwaway, but amusing. (Retrospecs is a 64-bit alternative.)

Learn Spanish by MindSnacks (free): Heavily ‘gamified’ language-learning app. Popular, too. We’d be astonished if this doesn’t get an update, but we’re already only a few months away from iOS 11.

MorphWiz ($9.99/£9.99): This quirky, tactile digital fingerboard was a great way of creating morphing audio on your iPhone. Was, given that it’s not been updated since 2014.

NanoStudio ($6.99/£6.99): Before GarageBand, this little beauty gave you an iOS recording studio. Even today, its synths sound great. And there might be a reprieve, too – its creator’s said to be working on a 64-bit version.

Nursery Rhymes ($6.99/£6.99): Sweet-natured and interactive set of nursery rhymes for tiny humans. Free (with limited songs) versions of the apps also exist. Beware of your own child getting too attached, though – unless you can repurpose an old iPod touch for the apps!

The dirty dozen: 12 great iOS games about to die

Unlike many apps, you can get a lot of value from games in a short space of time. Every one of those listed below is a tiny slice of App Store magic. Experience as many of them as you can before they’re gone for good.

Bit Pilot ($1.99/£1.99): Superb avoid ’em up. Sleek two-finger controls. Chunky chip-tune audio. Lovely. Definitely going away, says its creator.

Devil’s Attorney ($2.99/£2.99): Entertaining logic puzzle featuring an immoral 1980s lawyer. No updates since 2015. Objection!

Dream of Pixels ($2.99/£2.99): Enchanting ‘reverse Tetris’, with you taking chunks out of a cloud bank. Will float away come September.

Dungeon Raid ($0.99/99p): Superb RPG/match puzzle mash-up. A tad crashy on some modern phones, but worth devouring if it works. No chance of an update, according to its creator.

ElectroMaster (free): Madcap retro-infused single-screen shooter. Sister title HungryMaster is equally bonkers and brilliant. Its creator says: “No time to work [on updates] now”.

Forget-Me-Not (free): Fantastic, endlessly replayable arcade title, with you surviving neon mazes of madness. But the developer’s moved on, and so no update’s imminent. (Get it now, basically.)

geoDefense ($1.99/£1.99): Gorgeous, vibrant, hard-as-nails tower defence blaster. Got an update for iOS 8. Nothing since.

I Am Level ($1.99/£1.99): Clever, charming mix of 8-bit platforming and touchscreen pinball. Sadly, creator Stewart Hogarth passed away in 2015. Grab a copy, and raise a glass to Stew’s memory while playing.

Muffin Knight ($0.99/99p): Leapy platform shooty larks. (Essentially a cuter, more varied Super Crate Box.) Fun. Also: probably dead.

QatQi (free): Dungeon-crawling meets crosswords. Shouldn’t work, yet does. The creator’s website’s gone, so we assume the game’s on its way.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene ($4.99/£4.99): Starts off as a miniature version of the original 1978 arcade game, but rapidly evolves into eye-popping bullet hell. Square Enix told us it has no news regarding an update. Sob!

Westbang ($0.99/99p): Twitch shooter, where you keep the peace in a western town. Last updated in 2009(!), so we think we can safely say this one’s heading to Boot Hill.