Here’s a surprise: we knew Android was set to drop support for 32-bit apps very soon, with the upcoming Pixel tablet receiving code saves to prepare it for a 64-bit-only version of Android. What no one noticed is that the Pixel 7 is also dropping support for 64-bit apps, so its release yesterday takes a big step into the future of 64-bit-only Android. Technical Writer Esper Sr. Mishaal Rahman understood the ins and outs of how this is going to work.
It looks like the Pixel tablet will always be the first to run a 64-bit version of Android only, and the Pixel 7 is only half a step towards that milestone. Thirty-two-bit applications are disabled via a software flag, but it’s not yet running a 64-bit version of Android only. Trying to install a 32-bit app will bring up an error message saying, “The app is not installed because the app is not compatible with your phone.”
It seems that the OS is not quite ready for 64-bit versions only, because some system libraries are still 32-bit, but Google is getting there. Also, starting with an artificial software indicator is a good test case. Google can see exactly how much trouble 64-bit-only will cause, and could easily disable the flag in a software update if things get too bad.
However, most consumers will not notice the loss of 32-bit applications. Java apps are compiled by Android RunTime (ART), and the runtime can just create 64-bit binaries! The only concern is for non-Java applications (usually games), which will require the developer to build 64-bit versions. The Play Store made 64-bit support mandatory for all update apps in 2019, so the only issues should be with abandonware apps that are several years old. The great success of 2013 flappy bird seems to be the best example.
Sixty-four-bit-only mode will soon be a reality for new Android devices. While the Pixel 7’s Tensor 2 still has 32-bit support on every core, it’s probably the only 2022 flagship phone that can say that. This year’s Qualcomm and Samsung flagship SoCs only support 32-bit on three of their eight cores, and Arm’s suggested X3 SoC design for 2023 doesn’t support 32-bit at all. As for the Chinese market, Qualcomm would be reluctant to drop 32-bit support so soon and may not follow Arm’s guidelines.
Once the full 64-bit-only Android builds launch, we’re supposedly going to see better performance and security by removing all that 32-bit crudeness. Rahman says an internal Google study showed a 5-10% improvement in performance and power efficiency and a reduction in RAM and storage requirements.