Intel says Android 4.0 for smartphones, tablets ready

Intel-inside smartphones and tablets using the 'Medfield' Atom CPU and running the new Android 4.0 OS should begin to ship in spring 2012

Intel on Friday said it has readied Android 4.0 for smartphones and tablets based on its upcoming Atom processor code-named "Medfield," and says that it expects the first Intel-powered Android devices to ship in spring 2012 using that processor.

The company had a version of Android 4.0 for "Medfield" up and running within a day of Google open sourcing the OS, and now packages for smartphones and tablets with Medfield drivers are available to device makers, said Alec Gefrides, head of the Google Program Office at Intel.

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Intel is working with device makers to optimize and fine-tune the OS for specific platforms and products based on Medfield chips. While the OS is expected to be ready in time for the product releases, it will be up to the device makers to decide whether they want to implement the OS in smartphones or tablets.

"We'll see products next year on 'Gingerbread,' 'Ice Cream Sandwich,' and 'Honeycomb,'" Gefrides said, referring to Android versions 2.3, 4.0, and 3.x. "Every OEM has to put a stake in the ground to get a product delivered."

Intel in September said that the first Intel-inside smartphones would reach the market in the first half next year. Intel also said it was working closely with Google to optimize Android to work on upcoming smartphones and tablets with Medfield chips. The chipmaker showed off a Medfield smartphone running on Android 2.3 and a tablet running on Android 3.x at the Intel Developer Forum trade show in San Francisco that month.

The ability to run Android 4.0 on mobile devices is important for Intel, which has no presence in the smartphone market and a minor presence in the tablet market. Intel is trying to establish a beachhead in a market dominated by ARM, whose processors are found in most smartphones and tablets.

Intel's efforts to bring Android 4.0 to future Atom-based handheld devices is parallel to other efforts to port the OS to the x86 architecture. Earlier this week, volunteer developers of the Android-X86 open-source project ported the OS to work on a tablet with x86 processors from Advanced Micro Devices. AMD supported the project with engineering support and donated devices, said Chih-Wei Huang, an open source developer, in an email. "Intel continues ignoring us. I've tried to contact Intel many times, but they are not interested in helping us," Huang said.

Intel is grateful that developers are working on Android 4.0 for x86, Gefrides said, but he noted drivers will be released to the open source community only with device releases. Intel wants to ensure the OS works properly on Intel-based devices, and wants to try and prevent Android from getting fragmented. "Intel has to focus resources on building products, not experiments," Gefrides said.

Complaints about lack of early access to Intel code is reminiscent of the open source community complaining about Google not releasing "Honeycomb" code, which was made available only to certain vendors, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. If Intel did release the drivers prematurely, the user experience on smartphones and tablets could be inconsistent, Gold said. Intel wants to ensure a consistent and functional Android OS on devices, which is critical given the chipmaker is just starting off in the tablet and smartphone markets.

Intel usually optimizes code for its chipset, bus systems, and other components to ensure applications take full advantage of hardware for tasks like multimedia, Web browsing, or multicore processing. Those capabilities could go awry on faulty code and hurt the user experience, so Intel is trying to standardize the drivers ahead of a wider open-source release. "Intel wants to avoid people doing weird things in weird ways that makes their platform look bad," Gold said.

But the open source community is vocal and wants to commence development as soon as possible, for which they need Intel's cooperation. "It's damned if you do, damned if you don't," Gold said. "I'd have to weigh in on Intel on getting the user experience right."

Intel submits x86 code to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is run by Google. Intel has already been an active participant in Android development for the past two years, submitting more than 200 core patches to AOSP, which have carried over to "Ice Cream Sandwich."

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