Intel ends wait for 64-bit Android on smartphones

Intel demonstrates a 64-bit version of Android running on a smartphone with its latest Atom chip code-named Merrifield

Intel showing 64-bit Android on smartphone with company's new Atom chip code-named Merrifield

Intel showing 64-bit Android on smartphone with company's new Atom chip code-named Merrifield

The long wait for a 64-bit version of Android on smartphones is coming to a close, with Intel on Monday showing a version of the OS running on a handset.

The OS was shown running on a smartphone with Intel's new dual-core smartphone chip code-named Merrifield during a press conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Intel had already shown tablets running an unfinished version of 64-bit Android with its Atom chip code-named Bay Trail.

The smartphone was shown on stage by Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group. The demonstration was short, with Eul taking a smartphone from his pocket and swiping through a few screens of the Android interface.

"We have on Merrifield our 64-bit Android kernel running," Eul said. "We prepare the world and the ecosystem for advances and we push the 64-bit adoption in mobile."

Intel said in January that it had completed work on the 64-bit Android kernel. Intel has been working on integrating 64-bit for use in Android 4.4, code-named KitKat.

However, no smartphones with 64-bit Android have been announced. Intel expects new smartphones with Merrifield to be announced by the end of the second quarter.

Intel announced long-term partnerships Monday with device makers Lenovo and Asus, though it wasn't clear if those companies will release 64-bit Android handsets.

There will be improvements in video performance, compression, decoding and other intensive computing tasks with a 64-bit chip and compatible OS, said Julie Coppernoll, marketing director in Intel's Mobile and Communications Group. Mobile devices will also be able to pack more than 4GB of memory, which could provide performance improvements.

Intel's demonstration also paves the way for more device makers to bring the 64-bit OS to smartphones. Intel accelerated the code contributions to complete the 64-bit Android kernel for its x86 chips, while development is still underway for 64-bit ARM chips. The mobile device market is ruled by ARM, whose processor designs are used in most smartphones and tablets.

At MWC, Qualcomm announced a new 64-bit Snapdragon 615 chipset with eight CPU cores, but did not talk about OS support for the chip. The Snapdragon chip will be in high-end mobile devices during the fourth quarter. More chip makers are expected to come out with 64-bit ARM chips in the coming months.

Intel hopes the 64-bit OS support will give its x86 mobile chips an advantage over competitors in the ARM camp. However, Apple is still ahead in the 64-bit smartphone OS race with iOS on the iPhone 5s, which has a 64-bit A7 chip.

"Nobody expected the transition to come this quickly. Apple accelerated everyone's schedule," said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Google provides the baseline for Android and is working with a lot of partners on OS optimization for chips and handsets. On the other hand, Intel's doing a lot of the Android work itself, which allowed it to put in extra work and get ahead of its rivals, McGregor said.

"It's just a matter of where the schedule fits. Nobody expected the need to have it today," McGregor said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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