Intel highlights mobile technology, ambitions with pitch to Android developers

Intel made a strong pitch to Android developers at AnDevCon in Boston on Thursday, underlining the company's determination to play a larger role in the mobile market.

The general manager of performance, client and visual computing for Intel's developer products division, Jeff McVeigh, admitted in his keynote address that the company had made missteps with its early mobile strategy, including his assumption that the Dalvik virtual machine would be the venue for the lion's share of Android development. (Dalvik is essentially an intermediate layer between applications and the Android system, converting apps into Dalvik executables, which are easier for less powerful computers like mobile devices to run.)

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While Dalvik is, indeed, the vehicle of choice for most Android development, many of the best-performing apps are made with the Android Native development kit, which removes the intermediary.

"If you look at the top 2,000 apps on the Google Play Store today, only one-third of them are using Dalvik only," he said. "The other two-thirds have some level of NDK; some level of optimized code that's been polished to a specific architecture."

What's more, McVeigh said, despite the rapid rise of Android as the most popular mobile OS in use globally, developers could shortchange themselves if they don't cover their other bases, in the form of iOS and Windows Phone.

"To really reach the broad base, I can't just focus on Android. I need to be looking across platforms, across operating systems, and developing my applications to span that experience," he said.

To this end, McVeigh talked up the utility of Intel's own development tools, including the XDK kit, which was released last spring. XDK is a development kit for HTML5 which can be used for cross-platform development, building apps that work on iPhones, Androids and Windows Phones.

But Intel's latest inducement to Android developers is called INDE, or the Intel Integrated Native Developer Experience. Currently available as a beta, INDE pronounced "Indy" has a broader scope than XDK, allowing developers to work in their preferred host operating systems and development environments, then translate code seamlessly to a broad range of client environments, running on either Intel or ARM architectures.

What's more, McVeigh said, INDE includes some of Intel's latest programming goodies, including a set of visual processing libraries for easy screenshotting and streaming, and a C++ compiler touted as providing a 30% performance increase over the well-known GNU Compiler Collection.

Long the unquestioned ruler of the silicon manufacturing world, Intel was largely caught off guard by the ongoing rise of smartphones and tablets - a fact that the company's CEO, Brian Krzanich, acknowledged this week at the Code Conference.

But Intel's recent efforts to assert itself against Qualcomm, Samsung and the others that have dominated the mobile processor market have been determined and diverse. The company caught up with Apple's 64-bit smartphone chips in February with the release of the Z34XX and Z35XX lines, and the acquisition just this week of Rockchip, a Taiwanese manufacturer of low-end chips for Android devices, underscores the seriousness of Intel's mobile challenge.

"Intel has a stated goal of shipping over 40 million Android tablets this year," said McVeigh. "We are in this game to play."

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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