Five years after Apple made this shift with the iPhone, Google admitted today that the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro are the first 64-bit-only Android phones, as some reviewers had speculated. That is, they can only run 64-bit apps and not 32-bit apps as with all over Android phones.
“This configuration drops OS support for 32-bit code, reducing memory usage, improving performance, and enhancing security,” Google product manager Serban Constantinescu explains. “Over time, we expect this device configuration to become commonplace.”
According to Constantinescu, this shift required a lot of changes across the Android platform, developer tooling, Google Play, and the app ecosystem. Looking back, Google added support for 64-bit to the platform in 2014 and required apps hosted by Google Play to include 64-bit versions (in addition to 32-bit) in 2019.
Eventually, one presumes, Google will drop 32-bit support altogether, as Apple did in 2017. But that, of course, will require the rest of the hardware ecosystem to step up, so it will be a while. Or maybe never: Google does note that Android Go, which targets emerging markets, will stick with 32-bit code for the duration. And 32-bit code is important on Android TV and Android Wear too.
But the benefits of 64-bit code over 32-bit should be familiar by this point: better performance thanks to registers and instructions that are not available to 32-bit code. Better security because the larger address space helps Address space layout randomization (ASLR) work more effectively. Better resource usage, since the removal of 32-bit support frees up about 150 MB of RAM that was previously used by the OS. Better apps because developers can use tools like HWASan for detecting memory errors. Even faster OS updating.