Lilbits (1-03-2013): Are you ready for Windows/Android tablets?

Word on the street is that Intel thinks it’s found a way to make Windows tablets more popular — let users run Android apps on them. According to both Time Magazine and The Verge, Intel is encouraging PC makers to offer Windows devices that can run Android software in virtualization. That lets you run Android apps without rebooting.

The idea could be called Dual OS, PC Plus, or something else — but we’ll probably hear a lot more about the concept at the Consumer Electronics Show.

On the one hand, this would be a way to let Windows tablet and notebook users access the million or so apps available from the Google Play Store. On the other hand, if you thought Windows 8 already had an identity crisis thanks to its “Modern” and desktop user interfaces, this probably won’t do anything to change your mind.

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  • Michael Thompson

    Waking up to Pandora ads? Give me the Metal instead.

  • Michael Thompson

    I’m not paying 400 dollars for a device that doesn’t have an SD card slot, I don’t care what it does otherwise.
    Interesting user interface though.

  • buzz86us

    I’d prefer just a dual-boot situation. Virtualization often requires too much sacrifice in regards to performance/power efficiency. I like android because you can dial back the processor pretty far and it still performs reasonably for less intensive tasks such as reading.

    • Zackery Ward

      I think computers are powerful enough these days to handle virtualization.

      • John Morris

        Not the issue. The one thing no portable device has enough of is battery life. Putting Intel Inside already hurts the battery capacity vs. weight design parameter pretty hard, now make that Intel CPU grind on virtualizing and it will really bite into how long you can stay away from a wall socket. Especially if Intel can’t convince a critical mass of app developers to port the existing native code to native x86 and it ends up having to emulate arm as well as virtualize a container for Linux/Android. (And no, KitKat’s phaseout of Dalvik doesn’t impact this issue, the problem is most non-trivial apps have native code for the hard parts and Java/Dalvik for the UI and OS glue.)

      • bo

        What do you mean by native? Aren’t most code using the NDK just using C/C++? Not necessarily ARM specific things? What ARM specific things are you referring to that most non-trivial apps use?

        Have you looked at power consumption numbers of Intel Bay Trail chips and comparably performing ARM ones? It’s not as bad as you make it out.

        I do agree that virtualizing will hurt battery life compared to bare metal even though Intel chips have hardware acceleration for virtualization. If I wanted to run Android on a Windows 8 tablet as a secondary OS, I’d prefer some sort of quick suspend to disk option over a full dual boot one. It’ll take so long to boot into either OS that I’d just stick with Windows.

      • bo

        Also for those apps that can’t just be recompiled for x86, have you looked into Intel’s binary translation for the x86 version of Android? It supposedly has non-noticeable power consumption and resource overhead. I don’t know if that claim is true though.

      • CyberGusa

        Power consumption was true, it was a efficient hardware encoded solution, but the resource overhead was not true… Tests showed performance was about 1/5 of what the x86 native code would have run at…

        All forms of emulation/simulation has some overhead and is never 100%, but the main problem is it’s also not 100% effective and some things still won’t run or are buggy when they do.

        Something is still better than nothing, though, which is why they still used such methods but it’s mostly not needed anymore these days as support for x86 is quickly becoming the norm.

        Google and others provided the support officially well over a year ago and as the market for x86 and Android has improved, so too has developer support…

        Originally, you couldn’t even get Skype and some other notable apps to run on Intel based mobile devices running Android but there’s very little now that won’t run, with most providing native support for both ARM and x86… It’s quickly becoming a non-issue…

      • CyberGusa

        Putting Intel inside does not automatically hurt battery capacity anymore! Really, are you not reading the reports from Anandtech and others showing how much battery life has improved?

        For all intent and purpose they’re on equal terms with ARM now for power efficiency, at least as far as mobile SoCs go as ARM has yet to really provide any high performance solutions to compete with Intel’s Core series.

        You are right about virtualization but that would be true regardless of what the system was running on, whether it be ARM based or x86 based!

        Thus they are likely to go with a dual boot solution but with a custom firmware they can dual boot without actually needing to reboot now. Such firmware has already been demonstrated and shown to allow switching between Android and Windows in under 4 seconds, the other OS is just put into hibernation during the switch. So, only one OS is run at a time but neither needs to be closed to run the other anymore!

        Besides, most developers have already started supporting x86… You seem to forget that Google officially supports Android on Intel’s x86, providing the latest version of Android for Intel based devices for well over a year now, and that developers have had easy access to the updated NDK’s, etc needed to easily support both ARM and x86 hardware.

        Like how many developers on PC’s can support both 32bit and 64bit versions with the same installer, many developers just include both in their app code and the installer recognizes which system it’s being installed on, etc. etc. So, for most, it’s a non-issue to add support for x86 devices and I would say that number has already reached the vast majority as Intel based devices have well over 90% compatibility with all Android apps already!

        Just look at how much Android app reviews have improved from how they started a little over a year ago and you’d see a big improvement that couldn’t have happened unless developers started supporting x86 for their apps!

        The market is growing even bigger as not only is android being pushed on mobile devices but also laptops and desktops with touch screens… Even TV’s and other devices and many of them are x86 and not ARM based, leaving a ever increasing market for developers to be better motivated to support!

      • CyberGusa

        It doesn’t appear that Bay Trail supports the full spectrum of hardware virtualization support… but there’s also the consideration that virtualization usually requires significant resources and can cause a big impact on battery life that it’s mainly a solution for more powerful systems.

        While, like buzz86us suggested, virtualization also doesn’t allow you to dial back for basic usage…

        So, a dual boot system will usually be more desirable… Mind, they have firmware these days that allow easy quick switching between two running OS in under 4 seconds that just suspends and hibernates one OS while you use the other…

        Combined with uTDP and SDP power throttling methods means systems can be well optimized to be extremely power efficient and you don’t have to worry about long reboots between multiple OS on a system…

      • Arrdee

        Do you really expect these to be Bay Trail devices? Everything I’ve read suggests we’ll be seeing full blown laptops demoed, not tablets. Core i7?

      • CyberGusa

        Yes, it’ll be easier to push Bay Trail for affordable mobile devices and they can naturally run Android and provide the best battery life… thus making them likely to be the majority of such devices…

        While Core products will more likely use the less efficient emulation/virtualization methods and will cost significantly more, reducing the likelihood they will push Android as much on those devices.

        Mind, Android is best used with touch screen input devices and most of those are still mobile devices. So, even if there is a range of devices offered that most will likely be mobile type devices that will offer support for both OS.

      • Arrdee

        I had the idea that the only “new” Bay Trail devices would be tablets from el-cheapo outfits like Ramos, trying to appear to be on the bandwagon without actually being part of it. However… you could be 100% correct and we might only see more boring dual booting tablet/netbook/dockables or yet another Bluestacks On Windows abortion. If so then Big Yawn. However this doesn’t seem consistent with with the rumors, which suggest a newer and much bigger thing.

      • CyberGusa

        Rumors tend to exaggerated, and besides they’re far from done releasing new Bay Trail devices… They haven’t even fully released the Bay Trail M and D series under the Pentium and Celeron branding.

        Features like Quicksync will be disabled, like other Pentium/Celeron models, but will offer higher average power that’ll allow for higher average performance, along with support for things like SATA SSDs and up to 8GB of RAM.

        The initial Bay Trail T series models only support up to 4GB of RAM and eMMC storage only in comparison. While, the market for mobile LP-DDR3 RAM is still limited and the lack of Windows 64bit drivers is the main reason they’re still only offering 2GB with those models.

        I wouldn’t say the dual booting systems will be boring, a lot depends on how they apply it…

        Like pointed out they can now use custom firmware that allows switching between two OS in under 4 seconds… This eliminates the need to actually reboot between OSes and allows you to continue what you are doing with either OS in just the short time it takes to switch between them, giving much of the same benefit as being able to run Android in emulation within Windows but without the cost to battery life efficiency.

        If the OEM’s do it properly then storage and everything can still be synced…

        Besides, Android still has a long way to go for being optimized for usage on non-mobile devices but they’re pushing touch screens for pretty much the entire market now and so there’s potential but something they still have to work on for now…

  • Conception

    I’ll chime in on the user interface of Windows 8 and 8.1 – abortion! So ya, not going to win me over anytime soon.

    • jason

      Even though I normally use Linux on desktops and notebooks, I think the Windows 8 interface is great for UMPCs. I do agree that the Windows 8 interface isn’t good on a notebook and desktop but for UMPCs (I’m a UMPC fan), the Modern UI is great for most things I would do with a small device. When I (and I will) need to run a desktop only app, I can just instantly switch to the desktop and run it. Having used 5″ – 7″ UMPCs with Windows XP and 7, the Windows 8 desktop has also improved from a touch and active stylus point of view.

      With that said, I’m still waiting for Ubuntu Touch to get a stable release. I hope I can switch to the desktop or run desktop apps even when not docked or attached to an external monitor.

  • hershel

    If someone wants to run Android apps, I think the Android runtime solutions within Windows would provide the best experience. If I had to dual boot then I’d rather just not use whatever app I wanted to run.

    Of course, there are no Android apps I would want to run if I’m using a desktop Windows or Linux OS. All the Android apps I use on my phone are just gimped alternatives I use on the desktop.

  • ldrn

    My first reaction to this idea was negative — but I’d love the same idea if it was Android apps on an X11-Linux flavor, without needing virtualization. So
    maybe that just says more about my preferred OS than the real merit of
    the idea after all.

  • brian

    Just say no to the windows tax.

  • bolt

    I have a Windows tablet/laptop hybrid. Great hardware, very versatile. But I’d like to use some android apps, for example the gmail and google maps apps, in tablet mode if possible. Are there any easy to use virtualization methods available already?

  • Arrdee

    Everything I’ve read says this isn’t about tablets at all, but laptops. We’ll see next week i guess. Move it to desktops and we’ll see platforms ready to assist businesses and consumers in the move from Windows to Android. I’m not sure there will be any emulation involved, that would just produce a poor experience. Maybe they’re using Intel VT at a low level to just boot both OSs in parallel through a hypervisor, since most descriptions reveal Intel’s involvement.

    • me

      I don’t understand why they would bother with this on notebooks and desktops given that the whole Modern UI isn’t doing well on those form factors. Using Android would seem even less useful. It does make more sense to have these on tablets but as others have said the whole dual OS thing won’t really provide a good experience. The Modern and desktop UI’s are more okay because that’s built in and has less overhead than dual booting, quick suspend/switch and virtualization.

      Honestly, I don’t think this feature will help sell products and people who do buy them will end up just sticking with one of the OS’s.

      • Arrdee

        I look at it this way: You’re a business. You find Metro useless since there is no application deployment model except the constrictive Windows Store, so you move in-house development to Android. Now you have great flexibility as well as lots of new 3rd party apps to choose from. But you still have legacy Windows desktop programs to run. Answer: a machine that can run the legacy software as well as new Android software. You boot to desktop, ignore Metro, and life goes on. Down the road you can eliminate the dead Windows environment entirely.

      • me

        I don’t think businesses will use Android for that reason because they can sideload their internal apps: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/jj657971.aspx

        Also, I don’t think they’ll make touch apps for use on notebooks and desktops anyway for the same reason why the Modern UI isn’t popular for desktop use. I can see them making dumbed down versions of their desktop software for phones and tablets though.

      • Arrdee

        It is pretty widely known and a source of much angst that the technique you linked to is not an option for anyone but large enterprises and entails costs andbarriers for everyone else. This effectively kills Metro/Modern for serious use. See http://www.lhotka.net/weblog/Windows8WinRTLicensingIdeas.aspx
        I’m not sure where people get the notion that Android requires a touch screen of any kind. Most of the non-game applications like office suites, email clients, browsers, file explorers, etc. work just fine with just keyboard and mouse. There is absolutely no reason why LOB applications can’t be written for Android and have great success there.

      • CyberGusa

        I would say the notion comes from how Android software has always been designed from the ground up for touch screens… Desktop usage for Android is much like touch screen usage for traditional desktop OSes… You can do it but it’s not optimal in all cases!

        Sure, you can find apps in either case that will have minimum trouble in either environment but the OS is clearly optimized for specific usage ranges and both types are easiest to use when used in their intended form factor.

        Apps that require typing work best with a keyboard regardless of OS anyway and are thus not a indicator of what works best for a given form factor usage for the OS but just what works best for that particular app…

        Google will eventually evolve Android to have better desktop support but like the time it took to optimized Android for tablet usage, it will take time!

        Also, like Metro/Modern, Android still lacks any heavy duty apps for real productivity and thus despite having a far better evolved app ecosystem it still has similarly limited usage ranges to keep in mind.

        Though, simply offering Android a traditional PC’s may help to speed up the change but that remains to be seen as actually happening…

      • me

        I only see large companies bothering to make Modern UI and Android apps anyway. Small companies probably wouldn’t spend the little resources they have to even make these apps or even make their own desktop apps in the first place.

        Android is a touch first interface so apps are also touch first. That means lots of wasted space and even features are intentionally limited due to the intended usage scenario. If business users are using notebooks and desktops then a desktop interface is much better. If an enterprise is going to write an Android or Modern UI app to have a desktop interface anyway then why not just keep their existing desktop software?

        I still see this whole Android/Windows hybrid thing to be more useful on tablets. That is, if the implemented experience isn’t subpar which I think will be likely since dual booting is a pain even with a quick suspend and switch feature. Virtualization takes up extra resources. The Android runtime thing will probably be best but some apps may have some issues like Windows apps on linux using wine.

  • http://www.dahayden.com/ David Alastair Hayden

    To me, this sounds like a sell to technophiles and Android fans and tech bloggers, but not to the average consumer. I just don’t see how it’s a sell to most folks. Adds confusion and ruins focus. It’s just a spray and pray strategy.

    For me, I wouldn’t buy such a device even if I could ignore the Android part. I like focus.

  • timmymac

    I gave Pandora a one star review on Google Play, for their newest update. The reason is that they’re pulling a Facebook and requesting over-the-top permissions. For example, they want the right to send messages to my contacts without asking me first. Really? There’s some serious scope creep if a music player wants to send messages. I consider this right up with the (recently uninstalled) flashlight app on my phone that wanted access to my contacts list and full wireless access.