Android 13 Source Code Hints at 64-bit Only Apps Starting in 2023

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Google added support for 64-bit Android apps back in 2014 with the launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop, but it has continued to offer tacit support for 32-bit apps ever since. The end of the 32-bit era may be coming soon, though. Hints in the Android 13 source code show that Google’s upcoming Pixel Tablet may be the first Android hardware to specifically disallow 32-bit apps, and the next version of Android may do the same. 

At the dawn of the smartphone era, the apps on Android, iOS, and dearly departed platforms like webOS were all 32-bit. We didn’t even have 64-bit hardware support on smartphones until the ARM v8 architecture arrived in 2011. Slowly but surely, developers have moved to 64-bit apps, leaving some 32-bit software in the dust. There are still plenty of these abandoned apps lurking in the Play Store, but maybe not for long. 

Android is an open-source project, so the release of Android 13 earlier this week also came with a big dump of code. Hidden inside are a few commits that may reveal Google’s app plans. One comment mentions a device called Tangor, which is the code name for Google’s upcoming Pixel Tablet. “Move tangor to 64-bit only,” it reads. If indicative of the final device, this would make it the first known Android device to disallow loading 32-bit apps. 

Another commit talks about ARM v9 CPU cores, which are the latest revision in chips like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The code discusses a test to verify devices only execute 64-bit code, but this only applies to “Android U.” If Google continues with the pattern it has used so far, that means Android 14 could drop support for 32-bit apps entirely when it launches in about a year. 

A 64-bit app is more efficient and improves memory usage, which is why both Android and iOS have worked so hard to prod developers to make the change. Apple dropped 32-bit support entirely several years ago, and now it looks like Google is doing the same. And not a moment too soon. 

The move to eliminate 32-bit apps should not come as a surprise. The latest high-end smartphone processors, like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, only have three CPU cores that are even capable of executing 32-bit apps. Apps developed in Java or Kotlin for Android are already 64-bit, and Google started to require native 32-bit apps to include a 64-bit package in 2019. Thus, the only apps in the Play Store that are only 32-bit are those that haven’t been updated in several years. Perhaps not coincidentally, Google recently announced plans to hide old, abandoned apps in the Play Store.

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