Later this year, Google will require that Android developers build their apps with 64-bit compatibility in mind. To anyone involved in the Android ecosystem, that milestone shouldn’t come as a surprise; Google has let everyone know for over a year that all apps must have 64-bit support by August 2019. Now the company is providing a bit more detail on how it expects that transition to actually go.
According to Google’s roadmap, after August 1, “all new apps and app updates that include native code are required to provide 64-bit versions in addition to 32-bit versions when publishing to Google Play.” For those determined to stick with 32-bit, Google has an additional shot of bad news: Google Play will only accept “32-bit only updates to existing games that use Unity 5.6 or older until August 2021.”
Starting on August 1, 2021 (it’s coming sooner than you think!), Google will turn the screws a little tighter, and stop serving apps without 64-bit versions on 64-bit capable devices. Those users searching for a 32-bit app on a 64-bit-supporting smartphone won’t find it in Google Play.
There are some exceptions, including “APKs or app bundles explicitly targeting Wear OS or Android TV, which are form factors that do not currently support 64-bit code,” as well as “APKs or app bundles that are not distributed to devices running Android 9 Pie or later.”
For those who need to make the 64-bit transition (re: virtually everyone involved in Android), Google provides quite a bit of documentation. For example, developers should make sure their SDKs and libraries are updated to 64-bit-compliant versions, and that they test for issues once they rebuild their apps.
“We’re excited about the future that 64-bit CPUs bring in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and immersive mobile,” reads the posting on Google’s Developers Blog. “Supporting 64-bit prepares the ecosystem for the innovation enabled by the advanced compute capabilities of 64-bit devices, and for future Android devices that only support 64-bit code.”
Apple also began its transition to 64-bit architecture support a few years ago, although its path has been far simpler than the one facing Google. Apple keeps tight control over its devices and app store, allowing it to bring third-party developers in line pretty easily. By contrast, Android runs on devices produced by a dizzying array of manufacturers, and that lack of standardization (i.e., fragmentation) creates significant issues for the ecosystem.
Whatever those issues, though, Android developers don’t have a choice: 64-bit is coming, and they better jump onboard.