Google Android 4.0 offers better support for x86 chips

Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Google’s Android operating system is built on open source software, and that’s allowed device makers to tweak the OS and install it on a wide range of devices. While most Android phones and tablets released so far have shipped with ARM-based processors, we’ve also seen devices with MIPS chips or Intel processors.

But up until recently, Android was optimized specifically for ARM. While you could compile it to run on other hardware, it might not run as well. In the case of MIPS-based devices, I’ve noticed that some Android apps simply won’t run — and that may even include the Android Market itself. And most Intel-powered devices running Android haven’t been fully optimized with power-saving features or hardware graphics acceleration.

That could all change with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich though. An Intel spokesperson tells IDG News Service that ICS does include optimizations for x86 chips from companies such as Intel.

The news shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. A few months ago Google and Intel announced that optimizations were coming. But this is the first time I’ve seen confirmation that specify that Ice Cream Sandwich will be x86-friendly.

Intel’s chips still tend to draw more power than chips based on ARM architecture, and most Intel chips available today lack the always-connected capabilities we’ve come to expect from smartphone processors. But Intel plans to launch its first smartphone chips in 2012.

The timing is interesting. While Android, which started out as a smartphone OS, is adding support for Intel processors, Microsoft is building support for ARM chips into Windows 8. In other words your next phone could have Intel Inside, while your next laptop could have a Qualcomm or NVIDIA processor.

  • aftermath

    As you said, Android was optimized for ARM, which is odd because a full blown distribution of Linux running a proper graphical user interface (yes, even a finger friendly one) is slightly faster at this point on ARM than is Android.  Android on x86 is a slow pig, but given that Android is already losing the performance race on ARM, I’m not quite sure what the value proposition is here.

    Android, which is NOT Linux (it’s a fork of the Linux kernel that is not maintained as mainline Linux), flourishes on ARM because of a very insidious and cartel-like consumer con involving proprietary hardware.  While this situation can also be found in x86, there is at least an opportunity to avoid it, unlike in the world of ARM.  If all of the proprietary ARM hardware opened up, Android might suddenly die (leaving a rational person to wonder who is licensing all of that IP, thus encouraging and enabling component developers to keep everything closed) in favor of these actual free open source software alternatives that also happen to outperform Android and give users access to the pantheon of stable, secure, powerful, feature rich, continually update-able and upgradeable, Linux software rather than a couple of apps that have been around for just a few years.

    There are easier ways to let the people around you know that you don’t have any legitimate understanding of technology than clamoring for Android on x86.  Just print up a t-shirt or something with a message to that effect and leave alone Android to prop up ARM’s house of cards.

    • http://identi.ca/ddevine Daniel Devine

      In regards to a full blown DE + linux distro being faster on ARM than
      Android; anybody with hands on experience will tell you that you’re
      full of shit. Full linux desktops (Gnome, KDE, XFCE and Unity) are
      sludge on ARM – most distros don’t even have a stable HardFloat port
      yet!

      Binary blobs in ARM are just as rife as in the x86 world – in fact the blobs are usually firmware so it doesn’t matter which architecture your CPU is running.
      Sans graphics drivers/firmware you can easily have a completely open source ARM based system.

      The notion that Android would die if the ARM ecosystem were more open is preposterous. People are buying Android because of the Android brand and the ecosystem – not because of it’s technical features.
      Android can, will and does compete on any platform. Hardware is irrelevant to the Android project.

    • AppleFUD

      You lost me with your rant.

      Please show me a stable, user friendly, Linux OS with great hardware support. . . oh, wait there isn’t one. There are a lot of distros and most don’t have good hardware support and many are not user friendly. Linux is the definition of fragmentation–each distro has to have it’s own repository????? That’s just a joke!

      Linux has done piss poor getting market share. All because it’s driven by geeks for geeks. It isn’t developed for end users. At least Google has enough sense to develop “Linux” (Android) for end users regardless of the concessions they have had too make to carriers and OEM’s.

      When you get Linux straightened out let me know. I would love to be able to buy a device with a great Linux OS on it (not a distro) that is supported.

      Good luck with that.

      • Anonymous

        Hardware support actually isn’t half bad because of the way the linux kernel is structured. Check out Ubuntu(gnome) or Linux mint as far as user friendliness goes.

        As far as repositories go, most distros feed from Ubuntu or Debian repositories by default. Even if your’s isn’t set up to obtain from there you can set it up to get your programs from any where you’d like, even multiple sources.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_V2CWQUQ5YPRXVKPNBDFRXS6YJ4 RSmith

    What I want is a Google Android OS that keeps up with your finger – that is responsive. Android seems jerky compared to iOS. I showed my stepson at Best Buy how just swiping your fingers across any of the Android tablets has the animation lagging your finger position. The same swipe on the iPad has the position of the icons exactly matching your fingers. That is, where I first touch the screen is still under my finger, no matter how fast I swipe. It seems fluid. This seems trivial, but it just shows the level of attention to detail, not to mention the experience and feel the iOS is just natural, not artificial. Google seriously needs to address this sort of thing. That the difference in feel between stepping inside a Mercedes and a Honda, the Mercedes being iOS.

    As far as Linux on a tablet, it will happen, but not the way I wish it would. Ubuntu is working on getting Linux on tablets, but it’s Unity interface isn’t exactly what I’d like to see. Instead, I’d love to see a Linux tablet using KDE Plasma Active. Not only does it have the visual “bang”, KDE is a very well thought out and useful environment, so I’d assume Plasma Active will be too.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not expecting much on the phone or tablet front. What I am looking forward to is easier development for apps as developers can hopefully forgo the emulator. Maybe set top boxes or little nettops, although android likely will continue to run better on ARM so not entirely sure why one wouldn’t get a stb or net top with ARM.

    Who knows, Intel has a lot of money to spend and their closest partner (Microsoft) is sleeping around so perhaps Intel can spend their way into making android on x86 a viable option.