Google may bundle MIPS support with Android

April 16, 2012

rick.merritt-April 16, 2012

SAN JOSE – Google is expected to boost its support in Android for cores from MIPS Technologies, giving the company a badly needed boost in the hot smartphone and tablet sector.

The Android native developers’ kit is expected to start bundling a GNU compiler for MIPS within weeks. Google is expected to bundle full support for the MIPS application binary interface in all Android code and libraries, starting with a future Android release in the next several months.

“Google has started to take notice of the volume shipments of MIPS-based Android tablets,” said Amit Rohatgi, principal mobile architect at MIPS, speaking at the Linley Tech Mobile Conference here.

About 1.8 million MIPS-based Android tablets have shipped to date, Rohatgi said. They are mainly low cost systems from China OEMs powered by SoCs from MIPS licensees such as Ingenic Semiconductor.

Philips recently became the first global brand company to ship an Android tablet using the Ingenic SoC. Like many of the China branded systems, it sports a seven-inch screen.

The news comes as reports say MIPS may be preparing for a sale due to declining financial results. The architecture has a solid base in networking and set-top boxes, but has yet to gain a broad foothold in mobile where ARM holds sway.

MIPS has been working closely with Google to enable the search giant to bundle software supporting MIPS in Android and expects the support to come soon. However, Google did not confirm its plans to do so.

In terms of software support, as much as 85 percent of Android apps run on the OS’s Dalvik virtual machine interpreter. But as many as 80,000 of the half a million apps in the Android online store run natively, targeting the ARM architecture.

Code for running Android apps on MIPS already exists. Getting Google to bundle it all as part its standard releases is expected to ease the sometimes tedious job of integrating all the software needed to support the architecture.

“My number one headache and job is to make sure all the tool chains are complete for Android on MIPs,” said Rohatgi. “We absolutely must get official support for the MIPS ABI in Android, and that’s coming,” he added.

Separately, Rohatgi works with leading apps developers to get them to support MIPS in their code. A MIPS emulator called MagiCode is already available as a download so users can run ARM-based Android apps on a MIPS system.

The good news for China mobile chip designers is licenses for the MIPS cores cost “a fraction” of the reported $5 million it costs to license an ARM Cortex A9.

The Ingenic SoC is a 1.2 GHz device that competes favorably with the Cortex A8. A version with two MIPS CPU cores will sample later this year, targeting the A9, but consuming slightly more power than the ARM chip.

A 64-bit Ingenic chip aimed at the A15 is in an early design phase, targeting use in late 2013 products, Rohatgi said.

For its part, Intel has also forged closer links with Google so its x86 also will get as much support under Android as ARM. Andy Rubin, who heads Android work at Google, appeared at the Intel Developer Conference last fall as part of an announcement of closer collaboration between the two companies.

The Paladin tablet from China's Ainol uses a MIPS-based Ingenic SoC.

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