MIPS Positioning to Catch Android Wave

Submitted by BDTI on Wed, 07/22/2009 - 20:00

MIPS recently announced that Android has been ported to the MIPS architecture, with the goal of enabling its use in a variety of consumer-oriented applications. Android is an open-source operating system plus middle-ware and applications, and is backed by Google. (Google acquired a small start-up called “Android” in 2005, and continued development of Android software.)  Android was originally developed for use in handsets and was released in open-source form in 2007 by the Open Handset Alliance, a group that includes big-name mobile operators, handset vendors, semiconductor vendors, and software houses. 

Android has already attracted significant attention in the handset space. At last year’s Mobile World Congress, a number of vendors (ARM, Texas Instruments, Marvell, and NEC, among others— members of the Open Handset Alliance) demonstrated Android-enabled handset prototypes, and T-Mobile recently announced that it is about to start shipping its second Android handset, myTouch 3G. Now the question is whether Android will also pick up steam in the non-handset space—and the MIPS announcement is evidence that it may.

MIPS is betting (and hoping) that Android will become popular in non-handset consumer applications, such as DTVs, set-top boxes, and PMPs—applications where the MIPS architecture has a strong presence. MIPS has also joined the Open Embedded Software Foundation, a group whose goal is to expand the use of Android into a wider range of embedded applications.  According to MIPS, the MIPS Android source code will be available by the end of July. 

MIPS is one of the first embedded processor vendors to explicitly support Android for non-handset applications, though a  number of companies have already demoed Android-enabled products on ARM-based chips. For example, Android has been shown running on ARM processors in netbook products, and Qualcomm has demoed a netbook running Android on a Snapdragon chip (which is based on the Scorpion core, a high-performance, customized implementation of the ARMv7 instruction set). Systems house Touch Revolution has demoed a prototype Android-based desk phone using a StrongARM processor, and ISB has demoed a set-top box running on TI’s OMAP3530 chip in a development board. As for TI itself, the company’s wireless business unit is heavily involved with Android development and implementation, and it’s likely just a matter of time before that work trickles over to its catalog OMAP business.

Overall there appears to be significant interest in Android from consumer product OEMs, particularly for netbooks and other applications where a touch screen is the primary interface. There are still questions about Android’s suitability for some of these applications (evaluations of Android-based netbooks have been positive, but cautious), but it is clear that Android has managed to snag substantial interest across a range of applications. By making it easier for its customers to get Android products up and running, MIPS is in a good position to catch that wave—however big it turns out to be.

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