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ARM rival MIPS porting Android 4.1 to low-cost tablets

MIPS processors are used in some sub-$100 tablets

By Agam Shah
July 17, 2012 01:18 PM ET

IDG News Service - MIPS, continuing its push to make a mark in low-cost tablets, is quickly trying to bring Android 4.1, also called Jellybean, to its processors.

"We are working aggressively on bringing Jelly Bean to MIPS, and expect that it will be available to our licensees very soon," said Jen Bernier-Santarini, director of corporation communications at MIPS, in an email.

MIPS is a processor licensing company that battles ARM, which dominates the tablet and smartphone market. But MIPS late last year sprang a surprise by announcing a US$99 tablet, in conjunction with a manufacturer called Ainol, based on its processor and running Android 4.0. The tablet was among the cheapest and among the first at that time with Android 4.0, but this year Google took the honors of releasing the first Android 4.1 device with Nexus 7, which runs on a quad-core ARM processor.

Tablets with MIPS processors are largely low-cost and have found buyers mostly in developing countries. MIPS last week said a new tablet called Miumiu W1 from Chinese company Ramos would become available in a few months in India, Latin America and Europe. The tablet has a 7-inch screen, a MIPS processor running at 1GHz, front camera and a microSD slot for expandable storage. The tablet will come in models with 4GB and 8GB of storage, though prices were not available.

But with only a few device makers adopting MIPS, the company has struggled to make its mark in the mobile device market. Another MIPS competitor is Intel, whose chips are used in smartphones from Lenovo, Lava International and Orange.

Devices based on MIPS processors will receive Android 4.1 over the air, or as a download.

"Historically, our licensees have been able to bring new versions of Android to their devices within a couple of weeks of our making it available to them," Bernier-Santarini said.

But with mobile application development geared toward ARM, complaints have mounted about applications being incompatible on MIPS-powered tablets. MIPS has actively tried to address the issue by working with partners to make more applications compatible with its processors. The company last week touted Halfbrick, which offers Fruit Ninja, and Opera Software as porting applications to work on MIPS tablets.

Developers should also find it easier to write applications for MIPS smartphones and tablets with Google's Revision 8 of the native development kit (NDK) for Android. The NDK has a complete tool set and native support for MIPS instructions, so developers writing applications for the ARM instruction set should also find it easy to offer MIPS support.

But even if MIPS moves quickly to support Android 4.1, the company will again struggle to compete with ARM and Intel, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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