Intel, MIPS scramble to support Android 4.0 on tablets

Intel and MIPS jump on the Android 4.0 bandwagon quickly

Intel and MIPS Technologies expect the next version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 4.0, to soon run on tablets and smartphones based on their processors.

Android 4.0, also called Ice Cream Sandwich, has already been shown to work on a smartphone with an ARM processor, which is used in most smartphones and tablets today. Google showed Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) last month running on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, which will go on sale this month in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Google chose Samsung and Texas Instruments, whose dual-core OMAP4460 chip is being used in the Nexus Prime, as the lead hardware makers for ICS. But Intel and MIPS, which compete with ARM but have virtually no market presence, are scrambling to get their processors ready to work with Android 4.0.

The OS is ready to work with tablets and smartphones based on Intel's x86 mobile processors for tablets and smartphones, Intel said this week. The first smartphone based on an Intel chip will reach the market in the first half of next year, Intel has said. Intel moved away from its own MeeGo OS in favor of Android, and the chip maker has been working closely with Google on developing a version of Android for Intel-based smartphones and tablets.

"Ice Cream Sandwich includes OS optimization for x86, so Intel architecture-based devices can support it," said Suzy Greenberg, an Intel spokeswoman.

Tablets with Intel processors include Hewlett-Packard's Slate 2, which was announced earlier this week, and Cisco's Cius, which runs an old version of Android.

MIPS is the third processor architecture challenging ARM in the tablet and smartphone space. Tablets with MIPS processors already support Android 3.0, which is code-named Honeycomb, and the company is porting Android 4.0 for tablets.

"Android 4.0 for MIPS will be available shortly," said Jen Bernier-Santarini, an MIPS spokeswoman, in an email.

The availability of tablets with MIPS processors for Android 4.0 depends on when Google open sources the OS, Bernier-Santarini said. Once Samsung's smartphone ships, Google could open source Android 4.0 code and make it possible to port the OS to other chips and devices.

"If ICS is open sourced in November ... based on past experience, we would expect that the code will be demonstrated on MIPS a couple of weeks following the open source, and production-ready within 90 days," Bernier-Santarini said.

Many MIPS licensees working with Android have already completed the low-level Linux kernel and driver work and are now just waiting for open-source code of the upper Android layers to complete the ports.

"Since ICS is very similar to Honeycomb in its architecture, we'll be able to leverage all of the work done by MIPS and our licensees around Honeycomb, so we expect that ICS will be brought up on our lead platforms very quickly after open-source release," Bernier-Santarini said.

Intel and MIPS are more proactive in porting Android 4.0 to their processors than for past versions of Android. In January, while Android 3.0 was shown to work on tablets with ARM processors, Intel and MIPS were still in the process of porting the OS to run on their chips. It took many months before the ports were complete.

Phone makers backing Android 4.0 include HTC, which this week released a Rezound smartphone that can be upgraded to Android 4.0 as soon as early next year. The new OS includes many improvements including a new interface and system bar that makes accessing and navigating through applications easier. Other features include an improved keyboard, integration of multiple email accounts, improved security, core application improvements, quicker photos, near-field communications (NFC) abilities for mobile payments and improved speech-to-text features.

Smartphone and processor makers are excited about Android 4.0 because it could reduce the fragmentation of the OS. The OS brings consistency between the disparate Android versions available for tablets and smartphones.

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