Intel's decision to join Google and become a major Android
developer was big news in 2011, but it appears the CPU
giant's fondness for x86 support in Android is a wee bit more specific than you might have thought. Intel has made a number of major contributions to Android in the past six months, but the Android-x86 project, which substantially predates Chipzilla's efforts, has been left in the cold.
According to an EETimes article, AMD has stepped into that gap. The lead developer of Android-x86, Chih-Wei Huang, has stated
that "Yes. AMD provides great support to us, including devices donation and engineer's support. On the other hand, Intel still refuses to provide any help to this project. They closed all contact windows I've ever tried. Therefore, if you plan to ship android-x86 product, I recommend the AMD platform, which is the best platform to run ics-x86 so far."
When questioned, Intel implied that Huang's actions (and AMD's quiet support) risked fragmenting Android development and raised the question of whether the Android-x86 project contributed anything back to the AOSP builds. Android commentator Russell Holly also told EET that "“If AMD
was contributing to the Android open source project, that would be one thing, and it wouldn’t be fragmenting the platform, but if they’re not sharing the work back, there’s concern there in so far as fragmentation goes,” he said.
“If they’re not sharing, it defeats the purpose of it being an open source initiative. Using an open source project to create something that is closed source is by definition fragmentation.”
Huang, for his part, contests the idea that he's never submitted any work back to the AOSP, stating that at least 26 of his own patches have been included in the official x86 builds.
Gasp. Shock. Sarcasm
Intel's decision to focus entirely on their own Android flavor isn't evil--just intelligent. The AOSP version of Android will run on any x86 device; Huang's focus and the goal of the Android-x86 project is to port Android to devices and even PCs where it isn't supported and full drivers may not be available. Intel is focused on creating a platform for a wide range of products it intends to launch in the next 12-18 months; Huang wants to enable Android use on devices that don't normally run it. There's nothing wrong with either goal—they just don't align particularly well.
With that said, any implication that AMD is somehow hurting Android by doing this sort of work is downright stupid. If AMD wants to see its own products supported, it's going to have to do at least some of the heavy lifting on its own. Absent a corporate directive and a formal decision to join Intel as an Android developer, a little quiet device support and information is likely all the company could do.
When Intel decides to launch a new software initiative, it hires programmers, creates a new product division, and showers the newcomers in company stock, BMWs, and llamas. When AMD decides to launch a new software initiative, it snoops Facebook, identifies six hapless Radeon
engineers who identify as Linux enthusiasts, and kidnaps their families until appropriate products are forthcoming.
Alternatively, it threatens to publish images like this. Original photo by Narloke
Whether or not AMD will remain friendly with the Android-x86 project is anyone's guess, but the company's days of quietly contributing behind the scenes are quickly drawing to a close. CEO Rory Read has been very public regarding his goal of reshaping AMD as a force in mobile markets. We don't expect to see a serious tablet initiative from AMD until the Windows 8 timeframe, but the company is virtually certain to join the Android development program.
Until such time as it does, the Android-x86 program provides a degree of support and capability for x86 devices that other projects don't. True, it may technically
fragment the Android ecosystem, but the number of users is small enough to make it inconsequential. Absent major support from Intel, it's likely to stay that way.