For the past few years, as Intel has struggled to gain market share for its Android-x86 project, it's been hampered by software compatibility issues and associated performance degradation. Now, some of that burden is being lifted off the company's products -- the popular and widespread Unity 3D engine has announced that upcoming versions will include native x86 support.
That's important for a host of reasons. Currently, Intel
has a host of emulation and translation efforts that ensure nearly seamless compatibility with Android
applications. The compatibility layer isn't perfect, however, and games are historically some of the hardest content to emulate. Most titles depend on split-second timing and smooth frame delivery -- an emulation layer that hits performance by 20-40% may be perfectly acceptable in a minor application but result in a distinctly substandard gaming experience.
Up until now, Unity
has apparently been something of a black box, multiple developers have asked for greater transparency and native support for the x86 platform, but the final APKs have remained opaque and it hasn't been possible to target x86 architectures and no way to use x86-specific libraries. Now, that's changing -- and given the size of the Unity install base, the impact of that change will be significant.
"Unity is used by half of all mobile game developers, and many of them have been asking for increased support for Intel-based devices running Android,” said David Helgason, CEO, Unity Technologies. “We are proud to be working with Intel to ensure that Unity provides the smoothest and highest performing experience possible on Intel platforms.”
Unity development on Intel's Windows platform
This move may also improve graphics performance on Intel platforms simply by reducing CPU overhead and freeing up additional resources. It's not clear if it simplifies programming for both Intel's own graphics technology as well as its licensed PowerVR solutions, but it surely doesn't hurt. Power consumption and heat dissipation should also be improved -- emulation is always more expensive than native performance, if for no other reason than because the CPU has to run longer to create the binary emulation file. With power consumption at a premium between ARM
and x86, dodging the emulation need helps improve relative comparisons in a key area.
More native support for all Android capabilities is key to Intel's long-term plans for the business segment -- and Unity 3D is a core engine. This is a move that should yield significant dividends in future titles. For now, we expect the primary impact to be on Atom platforms (Moorefield and Bay Trail) -- Haswell
has no current market share in Android and it's not clear if Broadwell will change that
. For now, Intel appears to be focused on creating a high-end market for its next-generation cutting-edge platform, with Atom shoring up its Android strategy.