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Why am I seeing “app needs to be updated” error in macOS Catalina?

app needs to be updated
Bit difficult: Catalina won't run 32-bit software

Earlier this week, the latest major release of macOS was made public. Amongst the usual plethora of new features, Catalina (10.15) will also no longer provide compatibility for 32-bit software. That may leave staring at “app needs to be updated” error messages. Here’s what you need to know.

Will this affect me?

There’s a simple way to find out if you’re still using any 32-bit apps.

  1. Click on the Apple menu  > About This Mac, then click the System Report button.
  2. Select Legacy Software in the sidebar. All legacy software is 32-bit.
  3. If you don’t see Legacy Software in the sidebar, select Applications in the sidebar, then check the list of apps on the right. The column labeled ”64-Bit (Intel)” shows ”No” for apps that are 32-bit.

Also, when you choose to install Catalina, part of the process is to identify and report 32-bit applications, so if you’ve not done it already, it will be reported at an early stage of the installation.

What happens to the 32-bit apps after Catalina is installed?

They won’t work – or, more precisely, they’ll remain installed but, when you attempt to launch them, you’ll see this “app needs to be updated” error:

Woah, really?

Apple has been transitioning its hardware to 64-bit for more than a decade and has warned about moving software over to it for the past five years.

Since macOS Mojave (which came out two years ago), whenever you ran any of these apps you’ll have been given a notice along the lines of:

You’ve been ignoring them, right?

Why do they need to do this?

As mentioned previously, Apple has long been using 64-bit hardware, which provides many advantages over 32-bit equivalents. However, Apple has continued to support 32-bit software, at the cost of a more complex OS and needing longer to test code changes.

There has to be a cut-off at some point and, five years after warning about it, that time has come.

What can I do – I need that application to work?

I had a few apps that were 32-bit. Thankfully, many developers, albeit quite last minute, have panicked and pushed out a 64-bit version, so check for any updates that may be available.

I found that a lot of software for hardware devices (printers, scanners, etc) were affected. If a more-recent release of software isn’t available, try contacting the developer (via Twitter has proved effective for me), as they may have a link to a new version which isn’t otherwise listed (yes, Epson, I’m looking at you).

If there’s no new version on the horizon and you absolutely need that application to work, all you can do is not update your Mac. But, seriously, I’d been reconsidering why you’re trusting software from a developer that has ignored warnings for five years.

However, in some cases, it may not be as simple as this – you may not be able to update your software (development stopped, for example) or you may have an old release and can only update by paying for a new version (some people have found this with earlier versions of Adobe Photoshop).

There isn’t much that can be done here, other than remaining on High Sierra. macOS isn’t going to revert to 32-bit support, so you’ll either need to remain on that old OS or consider alternative software in the near future.

NOW READ THIS: Which version of macOS am I using?

About the author

David Artiss

Works for Automattic Inc., the company behind WordPress.com and Tumblr. Tech geek, international speaker and occasional PC Pro podcaster. Lover of Lego and video games.

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