Symbolic Calculator iOS app - Frequently Asked Questions about recent lack of updates

I don’t want to read all this, just tell me will there be an update?

Yes, but it will probably arrive in the form of a new app that you need to download. If you want to get notified when it is released, scroll to the end of the page and enter your e-mail address.

Why do I keep getting a warning about the app not being updated?

In the last few years Apple has been migrating its CPUs to 64 bit architecture from the older 32 bit version. Devices from the last few years support both architectures but it is expected that Apple will get rid of 32-bit support completely with iOS 11. Any app not built with 64 bit support will stop working. SymCalc is not compatible with the 64 bit architecture, so iOS is warning you that without an update it will stop working whenever Apple drops support for 32 bit-only apps.

Why has SymCalc not been updated then?

One of the important components of SymCalc is a very old software library called REDUCE Algebra System. It does not seem to work properly on 64 bit ARM CPUs and I couldn’t solve this problem after spending several days on it. Considering that this piece of software has a lot of other problems and is in general very unpleasant to deal with it doesn’t seem worthwhile to spend more effort on trying to get it work.
This is also the reason why the app has not been updated ever since Apple stopped accepting 32-bit only updates around two years ago.
Making the SymCalc algebra system compatible with 64 bit is possible but requires a very significant amount of work, practically the whole math engine needs to be rewritten.

If the update is possible, why wasn’t it done earlier?

Users from years ago keep using the app but the number of new buyers went down significantly. The lesson already learned the hard way by many is that a one-time price doesn’t work well with the continuous need to keep up with the frequent changes of iOS and this issue only leads to abandoned apps. SymCalc fell in this trap. At this point there are the following options:

  • Put in a lot of work to please the old users, make no money on it, and commit to keeping the app updated without any significant revenue. (or hope for an influx of new users that may never come)
  • Abandon the app let it die.
  • Figure out a model where continuous work on the app is financed and incentivised. This is difficult because people like to “own” their apps and not have to pay continuously. They also hate advertisements or being asked to pay separately for every tiny features. A variation of this is to at least make this just one update non-free.
The third version seems the most likely now, but it means releasing the update as a new app.

Are there any other reasons to make the next version a new app instead of keeping the old one?

  • We can get rid of a lot of legacy technical issues, such as the separation of iPhone/iPad versions that used to make sense but is just a major inconvenience now.
  • A new update wouldn’t be compatible with old devices and iOS versions, frustrating people still using them. (also a lot of schools bought the app in the Volume Purchase program for their 1st-2nd generation iPads years ago) While the AppStore is supposed to offer the last compatible version for download, in practice this has been very unreliable. These old devices may lose access to the app with a new update.
  • The new algebra system is not 100% backward compatible and that would cause all kind of problems (breaking saved functions and histories)
  • This isn’t a concern for existing users but the current app has been practically killed by Apple’s search algorithm as it is now very difficult to find even when searching for its name directly. This is probably due to the lack of 64-bit support and the related recent bad ratings and it’s not clear if at this point an update would change that.

Jun 8th:

It is now confirmed that iOS 11 drops support for 32 bit apps. The next version of SymCalc will be released before the public launch of iOS 11, likely as a new app. There is now a version running on 64 bit devices but still needs a lot of work to get it to a publishable state.

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