Jack Madden
15 Jun 2017

For years, we’ve written about the challenges of dealing with legacy Windows desktop applications. When we write about the mobile and cloud world, we typically assume that legacy apps aren’t an issue. That’s often true, but now that iOS and Android have been around almost a decade, legacy apps, OSes, and devices can be a problem for mobility, too.

In the most recent example, last week at Apple’s 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference, we learned that iOS 11 won’t support 32-bit iOS apps. This process got started in 2013 with the release of the 64-bit iPhone 5s and iOS 7. Last year you might have noticed popups warning that old apps might slow your phone, and now the wording is getting stronger. You can also check your apps by going to Settings > General > About > Applications.

According to analytics provider Sensor Tower, this affects about 8% of the App Store, or 187,000 apps.

On my personal iPhone, it only affects a white noise generator app and a musical pitch app I use occasionally, and I can easily find many alternatives.

However, there’s no doubt that this is going to affect some enterprise apps. There are more than a few companies that contracted out some custom apps a few years ago, and then haven’t updated them since then. Their users should have started noticing the warning pop ups last year, and now’s the time to do something about it.

Naturally, “legacy” affects mobile devices and OSes, too: As we know, many Android devices don’t get timely updates, and then support might only last two or three years. On Apple’s part, iOS devices are generally supported for four or five years—iOS 11 will drop support for the iPhone 5 and iPad 4, from 2012, and the iPhone 5c, from 2013.

These issues are also driven by user expectations of a new OS every year and a new phone every other year. Old apps are so jarring—just search for iOS skeuomorphism and it will make you shudder!

Dealing with “legacy” mobility

There are a few positive developments coming: Google’s Project Treble, arriving with Android O, should make it easier for OEMs to update their devices. And Zebra, the rugged device maker, is offering to extend the lifespan of Android versions for at least two more years.

On the Apple side, the iPhone SE, which came out last year, is the same size and shape as the iPhone 5 and 5s, from 2012-13. If Apple follows the usual pattern of support for four year, the iPhone SE will work until 2020, and the result is that companies that use iPhones with accessories like barcode scanner or credit card reader sleds will have at least 8 years of compatibility.

I should also point out that there are some key differences between legacy mobile apps and legacy desktop apps. Since mobile apps are much more well-behaved than desktop apps, they should be relatively easier to update or rebuild from scratch. And if our mobile apps are off-the-shelf clients for SaaS offerings, then the apps have likely been getting continuous updates for as long as we’ve used them.