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Summary:

A leaked build of Android 2.2 shows benchmark gains of up to 450 percent for Android applications. With a JIT compiler for Android’s Dalvik VM, even older Android handsets could see better performance. This and fragmentation reduction efforts are expected at next week’s Google I/O event.

Tests of an early Android 2.2 build show vast performance gains, indicating that even older Android handsets could gain new life by running applications several times faster than today — and that Google has software it can use to combat a hardware bump in Apple’s hotly anticipated next-generation iPhone. Google is also poised to reduce fragmentation with this release — codenamed “Froyo” and expected at next week’s Google I/O developer conference — which would help both consumers and developers have a more common Android experience across the many handsets built using the platform.

AndroidPolice has been running Android 2.2 on a Nexus One for nearly a week, but yesterday benchmarked performance of the build using Linpack for Android. The results show a nearly 450 percent performance boost, as Froyo appears to use a fast compiler for the Dalvik VM used by Android. Unlike many other smartphones, applications for Android are written in Java and run in a virtual machine atop the Linux kernel — with a quick JIT, or Just In Time compiler, application code can be executed faster. The lengthy video below provides an overview of the Dalvik VM from 2008.

Given that Google is hosting a specific session for JIT compiling within the Dalvik VM at next week’s Google I/O event, it’s a pretty safe bet that Froyo will bring the speed boost that AndroidPolice has clocked. Which means Google phones running on Android 2.2 will execute application code far faster by using software, not hardware. That’s a unique situation because while other mobile platforms might see marginal performance gains through an operating system upgrade, it’s not likely those efforts would yield a gain as large as 450 percent.

While Google doesn’t control which Android handsets will see Android 2.2 — that’s left to the carriers, with the lone exception being Google’s own Nexus One — the speed bump isn’t all I’m expecting next week. I suspect that Google will continue pulling its applications out of the core Android platform and make many of them available to device versions through the Android Market. While that won’t completely remove the fragmentation issue caused by Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1, it will reduce the effects — handsets with Android 1.5 or 1.6 would still have the older user interface, but would see more feature parity with Android 2.1 devices. The ideal situation would be for all capable handsets to run Android 2.2, but given the carrier control, that’s highly unlikely — a shame really, because many older handset, such as the original G1, run just fine with the Android 2.1 ROMs found on enthusiast sites and forums.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

  1. Good article Kevin.

    It seems that Android is just now getting out of its infancy phase which should help reduce fragmentation–it grew very quickly. I think 2.2 will be a desirable upgrade for all Android phones especially if Flash does work well. I would think handset makers would want to show that off; however, carriers are more likely to make everyone purchase a new phone to get it. . . please sign hear for 2 more years. At least there are a lot of really nice Androids hitting the marked.

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    1. “…carriers are more likely to make everyone purchase a new phone to get it.”

      I tend to agree, but there’s an opportunity for change here. If customers can see performance gains and new features on an old phone, I’d love to see the carriers push the updates where possible. That won’t give them more upfront $ with a new plan commitment or hardware purchase, but as Don says below, it would increase loyalty, and possibly bring long-term value or gain.

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  2. You’re more optimistic than I am about the whole fragmentation thing. Even with “current” Google apps, a 1.5 phone is still a 1.5 phone. Looks more like an attempt to mask fragmentation than actually address it.

    Having said that, I applaud the effort because, really, it’s all Google can do. Like you say, the carriers and manufacturers drive fragmentation more than anything else, and Google can’t control them.

    Meanwhile, the reported 450% speed increase is very impressive. Hope it’s really that good in the real world. When you’re at the mercy of various manufacturers, anything you can do the software to ensure good performance is huge.

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    1. Spot on, Tom – there’s little else Google can do, since it’s not the driver’s seat calling the shots. The shame of it is, the older Android devices can run the new OS versions quite well from what I’ve seen. In fact, I have an old G1 lying around – I may go dig for an Android 2.1 ROM and see for myself how it looks. Some of the ROMs already have the JIT compiler enabled, although they probably don’t have the version that’s expected next week.

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  3. Not really an Android guy, but I am always keeping an eye on what they are up to. I currently am using a Blackberry and anyone who saw the performance change when they switched to their OS 5.0 will know what is possible. If Blackberry who is most definitely not know for their speed can do that, I definitely can’t wait to see what is possible with an Android OS.

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  4. If they want to see loyalty from their users, the carriers should make this available to ALL who currently use Android. I’m looking for my Update Available notification any moment now.

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  5. We don’t have all the details yet, but I fail to see how versioning the core apps for Android will have any benefit for developers, it seems like it will even make it worse. Right now we have multiple OS versions each with a set of core components. If you start allowing those components to be upgraded individually then we’ll have no idea what to expect in terms of core applications, but will still be dealing with an older overall API version. It just seems to add to the complexity. I hope they have something better in mind though, the situation definitely needs help.

    The dalvik speed improvements sound awesome, probably a doubling of speed will be attainable in real world app scenarios. This is what happened when the early Java VMs added JITs, the performance increased dramatically.

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    1. I would agree on the idea that this will increase fragmentation. I have a feeling that carriers will now be LESS likely to update the firmware for phones, and at that point, where you may have more consistency in core apps, you may have radically less consistency in other items. I have no idea, but I’m curious if we’ll see some unintended consequences to this move.
      I just don’t trust the carriers to act in the best interest of users, though I respect Google for trying to circumvent them, I think they’ll have the same problem in different ways.

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  6. Does the better performance of 2.2 also provide a better bluetooth stack? In my opinion, Android is a far superior environment than that of the Blackberry EXCEPT there is no bluetooth voice recognition. Without this functionality, I question the future of an Android based mobile phone. (However, maybe Verizon/Google are onto something, a tablet that doesn’t require voice recognition, now, that might be useful.)

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    1. I haven’t heard of any updates to Bluetooth functionality yet, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see any. Have to wait for the Google I/O event next week for more info on that front.

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  7. Roshan Shrestha Thursday, May 13, 2010

    “Unlike many other smartphones, applications for Android are written in Java”

    Actually, BlackBerry, which I think is the number 2 makers of smartphones, requires Java to be used to make apps.

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    1. Roshan, you’re absolutely correct. I believe BlackBerry is the only other smartphone platform relying primarily on Java for apps. Windows Mobile, Symbian, webOS and iPhone all use other development platforms, although some do support Java apps in a JVM.

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  8. How sure are we that the CARRIERS are controlling the availability of upgrades and not the handset makers?

    Any confirmed cases?

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    1. Carriers by and large have always controlled the firmware updates on the phones for their networks. A recent exception to the rule is with the Nexus One — the device is unlocked and sold by Google; as such, Google has pushed a firmware update to the device, regardless of carrier.

      On the other other, the Motorola Droid update was pushed by Verizon — yes, Google provides the Android operating system, but Verizon tests and tweaks before it pushes an update. That’s generally been SOP for years, although handset makers such as HTC have been known to provide downloadable updates to some of their devices.

      I think it really comes down to support. Consumers generally buy handsets from carriers and not handset makers, so the carriers support the phones, firmware, etc…

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      1. Yes but while the carriers certify and ultimately distribute the software, my thinking is that handset makers must ultimately have an established plan and resource to produce software updates/upgrades to begin with.

        For example Samsung being notorious for their abandonware. It could be the case that even if the carrier wanted continued support, it was never in the plan for Samsung to support and provide updates beyond the initial release.

        Perhaps it’s a bit chicken and egg. If the carriers don’t demand (ie. pay), the the handset makers don’t provide.

        There could be technical limitations too. Anyway, my opinion is that it’s too easy to put the blame on the carrier. In today’s world with global phones, global platforms, global marketing initiatives, it seems the handset makers are clawing back that control… a bit.

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  9. [...] Android 2.2 May Deliver More Performance, Less Fragmentation Tests of an early Android 2.2 build show vast performance gains, indicating that even older Android handsets could gain [...] [...]

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  10. If they want to see loyalty from their users, the carriers should make this available to ALL who currently use Android. I’m looking for my Update Available notification any moment now.

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