iOS Application Bloat: Apple Has A Problem

iOS Application Bloat: Apple Has A Problem
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Whenever a new version of iOS is announced, developers scramble to update their apps so they don’t become disabled. For iOS 11, this is particularly important as support for 32-bit applications is dying off. This is also the reason a bunch of older iOS devices will no longer be upgradeable to the latest iOS. Over the weekend, my iPhone 7 Plus had over 30 apps that needed updating. That’s a pain but I was amazed at how big those updates were.

Application bloat isn’t new. When I started using a PC back in the 1990s, a good sized hard drive was 120MB. And, as my hard drives became larger, they always seemed to fill up, even though I used, for the most part, updated versions of the same software. When I looked at the applications I had to update last night on my iPhone, the sizes ranged from around 16MB to almost 700MB. All up, I had in excess of 3GB of updates pending.

I get that Apple doesn’t allow incremental application updates and that when an app is updated by the developer that the entire package is replaced. But this comes at a cost to users.

Time spent on updates and bandwidth, while more accessible today than back in 2007 when the first iPhone was released, is not free. And there are plenty of people I know who won’t update their phones or any other devices on untrusted networks, or are limited to cellular connections for days or weeks at a time because of travel.

Updating apps is one of the most important defences we have against threat actors.

My suspicion is that as storage and computing power have become more plentiful, and developer tools allow more people to create applications that the motivation and skills to write tight code are no longer there. There was a certain discipline needed to create an application that had to run fast and fit on a system with 2MB of memory and a 120MB hard drive.

I understand that software development has changed significantly over the years. And we can now do a lot more with far more powerful hardware than ever before. But when a mobile app update is close to 700MB (and |it was an Apple app that topped the scales) then it seems to me that there’s a problem with the update process.