Back at IDF September, Intel and Google finally announced that they’d be working together to get Android up and running on x86 devices. While there were a number of Android-running x86 tablets and a smartphone prototype or two floating around IDF, it wasn’t immediately apparent what the major advantage of Android 0n x86 devices would be for your everyday consumer. In fact, it wasn’t even apparent exactly why any of the existing Android manufactures would want to create x86 Android devices, given that up until now, pretty much all of their R&D has been focused on ARM devices. However, Intel may actually be perfectly positioned to be able to stimulate the growth of an upcoming segment of Android device — one which truly converges mobile and desktop functionality into one device. Chippy has coined such hybrid functionality: ‘High Dynamic Range Computing’ (HDRC), and the time might just be right for Intel to ignite this segment and find their own place in the Android market.
Before moving on, you might want to visit this link to see Chippy’s look at HDRC from last year.
Any consumer-available Android device that you can get your hands on today uses ARM architecture which is fundamentally incompatible with the x86 architecture that Intel products are based on. Android was originally built to run exclusively on ARM (though being open-source, some community projects were able to do some porting to x86). It wasn’t until several years after Android was on the scene that Intel and Google finally got together to work on full hardware-level Android on x86 support. That work is still ongoing. We’ve had our hands on Android devices running with Intel’s x86 architecture, but it is clear that there is still much optimization to be done. Once everything is complete though, won’t a device running Android on ARM be, for the user, indistinguishable from a device running Android on Intel’s x86?
If ARM has battery life, Intel has power. It’s an interesting dichotomy — we’ve watched as ARM-based devices have continuously scaled up to meet performance demands as the Android device market has grown. Intel has the opposite problem; they’ve got power, but have been constantly trying to scale it down to work with mobile at the tablet/smartphone level. Intel’s Atom series is a notable effort in the last several years to scale things back far enough that users could get reasonable performance and reasonable battery life out of a netbook. Once Intel can achieve the same thing at the smartphone and tablet level (and they’ve been working on this for years), they’ve got the expertise to push the processing end of things far beyond what we currently see from ARM — not to mention that the same x86 architecture that will be found in Intel-based phones and tablets is capable of booting full-fledged desktop operating systems.
If Intel plays their cards right, they could do very well in the Android market by stimulating the HDRC segment. HDRC isn’t really a mainstream thing at this point — most people have their desktop computer and they’ve got a smartphone and maybe a tablet. They view these two devices as fundamentally different. The promise of HDRC is creating a device that scales so well that it can converge these two categories of devices, which are viewed as different, into a single unit. This is a serious challenge because essentially it asks for a single device that is instant-on and has phone-like (all day) battery life, but, when plugged in, can be as powerful as one would expect from a laptop or desktop. Intel has the expertise for the high-end of the HDRC spectrum, we see this daily from the desktop computers that we work on. If they can combine this with phone/tablet-like low-power functionality, they could blow ARM out of the water and define the HDRC space that mobile technology has been steadily moving toward for the last 5 years.
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