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Android might soon be a mainstream desktop OS with Intel’s efforts


Android has traditionally been a mobile platform, but there are efforts to adapt this mobile operating system into other kinds of devices, as well, including embedded devices, desktop computers and even automobiles. In fact, some tablet efforts have attempted to utilize Android as a desktop operating system, with some success. Take for instance the recently-announced Lenovo A10, which runs Android 4.2 on a 10-inch convertible notebook platform.

Android and mobile devices are currently dominated by the ARM architecture, which offers adequate processing power at minimal power consumption. With this, even Apple’s A-series chips are actually a RISC architecture based on ARM. Meanwhile, Intel’s x8s architecture is still the dominant chipmaker for desktop devices, mostly running Windows, Linux and OS X. But a recent development from Intel might indicate that the chipmaker is getting serious with plans to support Android for desktop devices.

Intel’s upcoming Skylake micro-architecture is aimed at challenging ARM’s dominance in the mobile space, but Intel also seems to be likewise hedging its bets in terms of operating systems, seeing that Android has the potential to become a mainstream desktop OS in a few years. Therefore, Android might have a chance at challenging the so-called “Wintel” (or Windows plus Intel) dominance, plus other platforms that now run on Intel’s hardware like OS X.

Intel Roadmap

In a platform roadmap obtained by technology site VR Zone from sources close to Intel, it is reported that Intel is extensively testing Android on its Haswell U and Y series chipsets. Testing has reportedly involved Android 4.2 Jelly Bean UEFI BIOS, running Linux a 64 bit 3.9 kernel. According to the report, the upcoming platform will be the successor to the Broadwell platform, and will be called Braswell. The platform will be using the 14 nm process and will support DDR 4 RAM. Braswell will be out by 2015.

Intel’s roadmap does raise some concerns and questions.

Android as a desktop OS. First is the suitability of Android as a desktop platform. Android does trace its roots to Linux underpinnings, although the user experience is optimized for mobile devices with touchscreens. In terms of suitability to a desktop environment, however, it would require some adjustment in terms of user perspective. We have seen the same concerns when Microsoft launched its Surface, a tablet that ran Windows 8, but which could also be converted into a notebook computer of sorts with its own keyboard-cover.

Is this the end for ARM? If and when Android starts gaining ground on desktop devices running Intel hardware, it might also lead to eventual dominance of Intel’s architecture in mobile devices, as well. Should ARM-based chipmakers like Samsung, NVIDIA, Mediatek and Qualcomm be concerned?

How about WinTel? This “alliance” has been the driving force in desktop platforms for years now, and with Microsoft shifting strategies toward cloud services and its own mobile platform, will this mean a big change in Intel’s priorities? We’re talking about two tech giants here, after all: Microsoft and Google. Intel reportedly has thousands of engineers working with Google in improving compatibility between Android and its own upcoming Braswell platform.

It may not be an easy start, but having Android as a desktop platform would help unify computing across different types of devices — mobile, desktop and embedded — and will ultimately be a benefit for users who regularly switch across different devices as a matter of necessity.

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