The move to 64-bit computing on Android

In December 2017, Google announced via an Android Developers blog post that the Google Play store will require new apps and app updates to provide 64-bit versions in addition to their 32-bit versions. Overall, this mandate from Google is good news and has kick-started the ecosystem towards 64-bit app development. At the same time, it is worth noting that 64-bit capabilities have been available in Android for several years, so is unlikely to present huge shockwaves among the developer community.

However, as with any significant announcement, there can be confusion about what needs to be done before the transition deadline of August 2019. To help address these points, Dave Whaley, Senior Manager, Strategic Software Solutions at Arm, has authored a new whitepaper, which sets out the reasons behind the move to 64-bit computing on mobile, why it’s important, what the Android ecosystem – especially developers – needs to consider, and what Arm and Google are doing to help.

Why 64-bit matters

A 64-bit CPU can process a larger set of data stored in memory compared to a 32-bit processor, resulting in a better overall performance. 64-bit is also faster, meaning it spends less time fetching and loading data, and will be more responsive to well-written software.

At Arm we refine, innovate and optimize both 64 and 32-bit architectures. However, the 32-bit power-efficient capabilities and performance that users have enjoyed on their mobile devices are becoming increasingly difficult to improve. Moreover, new workloads such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), immersive mobile gaming and 4K displays are taxing the limits of the 32-bit architecture. The 64-bit architecture allows for continuous and future innovation and enables greater compute capabilities for power-efficient mobile applications.

Hand over mobile phone

The impact on developers

For many applications, the creation of the newly required 64-bit libraries will be simple, as the majority of open-source libraries have been type-safe and tested for these systems for many years. Most code written using Arm NEON intrinsics will compile for 64-bit without change. If an Android application is written entirely in Java, the current Android Runtime will support the application without modification. However, if an application uses native Android libraries, then – depending on how well it was originally written – developers may have some work to do. Our message is that developers should check now to avoid bigger problems in the future when the move to 64-bit starts to accelerate. 

What Arm is doing

Arm is working closely with our partners to understand any ecosystem, technical, or commercial blocking issues inhibiting the migration of Android apps to 64-bit. Following overwhelming positive feedback about the transition at Droidcon in San Francisco, we are not anticipating any significant problems or surprises between now and August 2019. 

From an ecosystem perspective, Arm is engaging with the premier Android game engine providers who provide their technology to thousands of game developers. We are making sure that these providers migrate their engines in plenty of time for the game studios to build, test, and release their Android games prior to the transition deadline. We are also working with Google through providing performance data, rationale and encouragement to help the 64-bit move on Android, as well as raising awareness to the developer community.

From a hardware perspective, Arm is focusing on developing more 64-bit optimizations for key libraries, run-times, browsers, and engines commonly used within Android. Moreover, the recent releases of Arm architecture contain new features and benefits that are only available as 64-bit.

A positive move for the future

There are numerous activities and many moving parts that need to come together to support the Android App transition to 64-bit. However, we believe that it will provide many benefits for the Android ecosystem. Indeed, it is important that the ecosystem embraces 64-bit app development to be able to innovate into the future. 

So far, we have received positive feedback about the 64-bit move from the ecosystem, and stand ready to provide further support and guidance as the transition continues through to August 2019. Our message to developers is to start investigating now whether your applications require additional work. Arm is here to support the developer community and help address any technical challenges as part of the 64-bit move.

For any questions about the 64-bit move on Android please contact developer@arm.com

Download the White Paper

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