Intel for Android* Developers Learning Series #1: Introducing Android* on Intel Processors


1. Intel and Android*, a Brief History

The history of Android* running on Intel processors goes back to before Intel officially started making chips specifically for Android devices. It started, in 2009, as an unofficial port created by a group of developers who called it The Android-x86 Project. In 2010 Intel announced the Moorestown platform to be used in smartphones and tablets. During 2011, several Android tablets were released with Intel processors. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Intel and Google announced a partnership to optimize future versions of Android for Intel processors. During 2012, the first Android smartphones featuring Intel processors were released, starting with the Lava Xolo X900* in India.

1.1. Android-x86 Project

Initially called “patch hosting for Android x86,” The Android-x86 project was started by a group of developers in mid-2009. Their goal was to port the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) to the x86 platform. The project can be found at Before the Android SDK and NDK officially supported x86 processors, the Android-x86 project was the go-to source for porting Android to devices with x86 processors.

1.2. Moorestown Platform

In 2010, Intel Corporation unveiled its newest Intel® Atom™ processor-based platform, codenamed Moorestown. The technology package provided significantly lower power consumption and prepared the company to target a range of computing devices, including high-end smartphones, tablets, and other mobile handheld products. The chips brought Intel's classic product strengths—outstanding performance to run a comprehensive and growing number of rich media and Internet applications, a choice of software, and the ability to easily multitask—across a number of applications, including HD video and multipoint videoconferencing.

The new platform supported a range of scalable frequencies, up to 1.5 GHz for high-end smartphones and up to 1.9 GHz for tablets and other handheld designs. The chipset also brought support for Wi-Fi*, 3G/HSPA, and WiMAX, as well as a range of operation systems, including Android, MeeGo*, Moblin*, and Windows* 7. Intel brought together a breadth of applications and ecosystem support across these platforms to enable a software and Internet-compatible user experience for developers and consumers.

1.3. Intel and Google Partnership

On September 13,2011, Intel Corporation and Google Inc. announced that they would work to enable and optimize future versions of Android for the Intel Atom family of low power processors. This means that future versions of the Android platform will support Intel technology in addition to other architectures in the software release by Google.

The joint effort was designed to speed time-to-market of Intel technology-based smartphones running the Android platform. Intel took advantage of the open-source accessibility of the Android platform to provide its customers with technology products that inspire continued innovation and also help enable powerful personal computing experiences that fully leverage Intel technology across a range of devices. This work would enable mobile device OEMs and wireless operators to draw upon the performance and low power capabilities of Intel® architecture and tap into the scale of the x86 developer ecosystem to further drive the adoption of the Android platform.

”By optimizing the Android platform for Intel architecture, we bring a powerful new capability to market that will accelerate more industry adoption and choice, and bring exciting new products to market that harness the combined potential of Intel technology and the Android platform,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini. “Together we are accelerating Intel architecture and bringing new levels of innovation to a maturing Android platform.”

“Combining Android with Intel's low power smartphone roadmap opens up more opportunity for innovation and choice,” said Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google. “This collaboration will drive the Android ecosystem forward.”

The announcement built upon the two companies' recent joint initiatives to enable Intel architecture on Google products, which include Chrome OS and Google TV along with the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) and Native Development Kit (NDK).

1.4. Medfield Platform

January of 2012, at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Intel Corporation announced a number of advancements across its smartphone business, including a multiyear, multidevice strategic relationship with Motorola Mobility, Inc., a subsidiary of Google Inc., and a handset by Lenovo, the K800*, based on the company’s new Intel Atom processor platform. The Intel Atom processor Z2460 platform, formerly codenamed Medfield, was specifically designed for smartphones and tablets, and delivers leading performance with competitive energy efficiency. The effort with Motorola Mobility includes smartphones that Motorola would begin to ship in the second half of 2012 using Intel Atom processors and the Android platform. The collaboration, which also covers tablets, combines Intel’s leadership in silicon technology and computing innovation with Motorola’s mobile device design expertise.

Intel also announced the Intel® Smartphone Reference Design, which aims to shrink device development time and costs for phone OEMs and carriers. This fully functioning smartphone features sleek packaging, a 4.03-inch high-resolution LCD touchscreen for crisp text and vibrant images, and two cameras delivering advanced imaging capabilities, including burst mode that allows individuals to capture 15 pictures in less than a second with 8-megapixel quality.

2. Devices

The first Android devices powered by Intel Atom processors were tablets, starting with the Avaya Flare* in 2010. During 2011, 30 devices powered by Intel Atom processors were released, all in a tablet form factor. The unique advantage of using the Intel Atom processors in these tablets is that they can run both Android and Windows. In the first half of 2012, smartphones powered by Intel Atom processors came to market, starting with the Lava Xolo X900*, Lenovo K800*, and Orange San Diego*. All of these phones were released outside of the United States.

2.1. Avaya Flare*

Released September 26, 2010, the Flare* was the first Android tablet featuring a 1.86-GHz Intel Atom Processor Z540. It ran Android 2.1 (Eclair), and had some good specs for the time, such as an 11.6-inch screen and a 5-megapixel front camera. However with a battery life of less than three hours and a weight of 3.25 pounds, it had about half the battery life and double the weight of other tablets on the market.

2.2. ViewSonic ViewPad 10*

The ViewPad 10* was the first tablet powered by an Intel Atom processor to run both Windows 7 and Android 2.2 (Froyo). It shipped February 3, 2011 featuring a 1.66-GHz processor (N455) and a 10.1-inch screen. With a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, four to six hours of battery life, and a weight of 1.93 pounds, the ViewPad 10* was on par with other tablets of the time.

2.3. Lava Xolo X900*

The X900* was the first Android smartphone powered by an Intel Atom processor. It was released April 2012 in India and is based on Intel’s reference design. It has a 4-inch (1024x600) display, 8-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front camera, and Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC allows communication with other devices with NFC technology or unpowered NFC chips (tags). This technology has several uses such as transferring data, making purchases, and changing settings, on the phones to name a few. The X900 runs on a Z2460 1.6GHz processor with Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology (Intel HT Technology). Intel HT Technology allows one core on the processor to appear like two cores to the operating system. This doubles the execution resources available to the OS, which potentially increases the performance of your overall system. This feature is not available on ARM processors. The device also features a 400-MHz graphics core, 1 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of internal storage, putting it on par with the average high-end smartphone of the time. The X900* came loaded with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with no custom UI, like Sense or Touchwiz, but will be updated to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) later in 2012. Unlike many Android phones in existence, the Xolo has no removable battery or SD card slot. This is seen as a disadvantage to some in the Android community, but this appears to be the trend for new high-end Android smartphones, including HTC’s new One series. The reason for the new trend of nonremovable batteries is that it allows for thinner smartphones. The move away from SD card slots is an effort to increase smartphone performance, since internal storage is faster then SD cards.

2.4. Lenovo K800*

The K800 was released in China at the end of May 2012. It features many of the same specs as the Xolo X900, since it is also based on Intel’s reference design, including the same 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor with Intel HT Technology and a 400-MHZ graphics processor. Just like the Xolo, the K800 has an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 1.3-megapixel front camera, 1 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of internal storage. It comes running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with a custom Lenovo UI. It also has no removable battery. There are few notable differences besides the UI including the larger 4.5-inch screen, larger battery, and an SD card slot.

2.5. Orange San Diego*

The third Intel powered smartphone was released in the United Kingdom in June of 2012. Also based on the Intel reference design, this phone is almost identical to the Xolo X900. It has the same 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor with Intel HT Technology and a 400-MHz graphics processor, the same cameras, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal storage, and a 4-inch screen. It runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with a custom UI by Orange, which is different from the custom UI on the K800. Like the two smartphones before it, the battery is not removable and there is no SD card slot.

2.6. Future Devices

Several other Medfield smartphones running Android are expected to release later this year. There are rumors that the first Medfield smartphone running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) will be released in Q4 2012. Android smartphones with the Dual Core 1.8-GHz Intel Atom processors, codenamed Clover Trail, are expected to hit shelves in the first half of 2013. These phones will release with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).

3. Android SDK/NDK x86 Support

Initially, there was no support from Google in the SDK or NDK for x86 processors. Support was gradually added, starting in July of 2011 when revision 12 of the SDK and revision 6 of the NDK were released adding support for x86-based platforms.

Later, in March of 2012, Revision 17 of the SDK was released adding native x86 emulator support. This allowed the Android emulator to run at near-native speeds on development computers that have x86 processors and include virtualization hardware (Intel® Virtualization Technology, or Intel VT), thanks to contributions from Intel.

4. Intel Software for Android

Intel has released several additional pieces of software to help developers optimize their applications for Intel Atom processors. The most notable are the Intel® Atom™ x86 System Image, Intel® Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager (Intel HAXM), and Intel Graphics Performance Analyzer with Android support.

4.1. Intel® Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager (Intel® HAXM)

Released in February of 2012, Intel® HAXM supports Windows, Mac*, and Linux* platforms. Intel HAXM is a hardware-assisted virtualization engine (hypervisor) that uses Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel VT) to speed up Android application emulation on a host development machine. In combination with Android x86 emulator images provided by Intel and the official Android SDK Manager, Intel HAXM allows for faster Android emulation on Intel VT enabled development systems.

4.2. Intel® Graphics Performance Analyzer (Intel® GPA)

The latest version, with support for Android, was introduced in March of 2012 at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Intel® GPA is a powerful, agile developer tool suite for analyzing and optimizing games, media, and other graphics-intensive applications. It provides real-time charts of CPU metrics, graphics API level metrics, GPU hardware metrics, and power metrics.

4.3. Intel® Atom™ X86 System Image for Android* 4.0

In May of 2012, Intel released the Intel® Atom™ X86 System Image of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). This emulation platform allows developers without a physical Intel Atom based device to develop and test applications on their PC at near-native speeds.