Google Android 4.1 includes a number of media improvements including built-in support for encoding and decoding AAC 5.1 audio, support for multichannel audio output through HDMI, and support for USB audio output.
But Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music notes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Android team is also working to enable support for low latency audio across a range of Android phones and tablets. That could be very good news for musicians and audio professionals looking to use Android to create and edit sound.
In a nutshell, audio latency is the gap in the time between the moment when you tap the screen and the moment when you actually hear something. It’s hard to do serious audio production if that gap is too long, but Android software and hardware haven’t traditionally prioritized low-latency audio.
That’s one of the reasons you see far more apps for musicians on iOS than Android.
Apple has things a bit easier, because the company controls the hardware and software, while Google makes software that runs on a wide range of devices. But the company is shooting for latency of 10 milliseconds or less through software enhancements. Google could also eventually set requirements for hardware makers so that in order to provide a Google Certified device, phone and tablet makers would have to meet targets.
That would means a virtual piano app, drum pad, or digital audio workstation designed to work on one Android 4.1 device should theoretically work just as well on other devices running Google’s latest operating system.
For now, this is all just a theory though. Until third party developers start writing new music apps to take advantage of Google’a latest audio enhancements and device makers start working with Google to support low-latency audio, Android devices will probably continue to play third fiddle to those running desktop operating systems ( such as Windows, Mac, or Linux) or iOS.