Here’s a surprise: We knew Android was getting ready to drop 32-bit app support sometime soon, with the upcoming Pixel Tablet receiving code check-ins to prep it for a 64-bit only version of Android. What nobody noticed was that the Pixel 7 is also dropping 64-bit app support, so its release yesterday is taking a big step toward Android’s 64-bit-only future. Esper Senior Technical Editor Mishaal Rahman figured out the ins and outs of how this is going to work.
It sounds like the Pixel Tablet will still be the first to run a 64-bit-only version of Android, and the Pixel 7 is only taking a half step toward that milestone. Thirty-two-bit apps are disabled via a software flag, but it’s not running a 64-bit-only build of Android yet. Trying to install a 32-bit app will display an error message that says: “App not installed as app isn’t compatible with your phone.”
It sounds like the OS is not quite ready for 64-bit-only builds, since some system libraries are still 32-bit, but Google is getting there. Plus, starting out with an artificial software flag is a good test case. Google can see exactly how many problems 64-bit only will cause and could easily turn the flag off in a software update if things get too bad.
Really, though, most consumers won’t notice the loss of 32-bit apps. Java apps get compiled by the Android RunTime (ART), and the runtime can just make 64-bit binaries! The one concern is non-Java apps (usually these are games), which will need the developer to make 64-bit builds. The Play Store made 64-bit support mandatory for all updating apps in 2019, though, so the only problems should be with abandonware apps that are several years old. The 2013 smash hit Flappy Bird seems to be the prime example.
The 64-bit-only mode will soon be a fact of life 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. The flagship Qualcomm and Samsung SoCs from this year both only support 32-bit on three of their eight cores, and Arm’s suggested X3 SoC design for 2023 has no 32-bit support at all. With an eye toward the Chinese market, Qualcomm is reportedly balking at dropping 32-bit support so soon and might not follow Arm’s guidelines.
Once the full 64-bit-only Android builds get going, supposedly we’re going to see better performance and better security by removing all that 32-bit cruft. Rahman says one internal Google study showed a 5–10 percent improvement in performance and power efficiency, and lower RAM and storage requirements.