More proof emerges that the next upgrade to the Android Operating System will be a humongous leap for the Operating system. If you’re running Android on your smartphone, you’ll likely be running Android on its native Dalvik runtime. It’s a runtime that has been used since Android first launched. However, it looks like Google maybe putting Dalvik to rest in favour for its own native Android Runtime (ART).
Earlier this week, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) , a code base which is used by most custom ROM developers, was updated by Google to eliminate the Dalvik Runtime altogether. The conversion of the runtime came as a surprise to many as it was not expected to be converted so soon. ART first appeared in Android 4.4 KitKat as an experimental feature which could only be enabled if the user knew how to enable the developer options in the phone. It was also the cause of many applications being incompatible due to the different ways it handles applications.
However, this isn’t a bad thing. The main difference between ART and Dalvik is the way it handles applications. The former, pre-compiles applications and uses a method called ahead of time compilation while the latter uses what developers know as Just-In-Time (JIT) compilation. The main difference between these handling methods is that one performs better than the other in the long run. Anyone care to guess which? Yup, that’s pretty much the answer, ART. Even in its beta form, ART has been a constant performer decreasing launch times significantly on Android devices. Google goes so far as to claim that ART reduces the launch times of application by 50% without negatively affecting the performance of the application.
The merge of the coding in the AOSP was marked with “Dalvik is Dead, Long Live Dalvik” hailing the demise of the runtime as the default runtime for the operating system.
How does ART affect Android Users?
As with any update to an Operating System, we, as consumers, are interested in knowing how this will affect us. Well, in short term, developers are going to face a huge task of converting their Dalvik based code to run on ART – meaning that its likely we may see many applications be left behind in Dalvik-land while others may crash or misbehave in the transition time. While it is likely most developers already saw the change coming and have adapted their code, we have to expect a few stubborn ones to catch up.
It is also likely with Android 4.4 KitKat sandboxing the SD card capabilities, that we are going to see a change in where non essential data is stored on Android – in the SD Card. While devices like the Nexus line of devices may choose the cloud, other developers and manufacturers may choose to use the SD card as it is under used in current Android iterations. This will come as a step to prevent the usage of on-board space in mobile devices as the change to ART would likely result in increased application sizes due to the nature of ahead of time compilation.
While it may seem like, in the short term, the conversion from Dalvik to ART is a pain and doesn’t benefit the user at all, it’s not all that bad. ART would mean that we’re bound to get bigger (and cheaper) standard sized phones, most likely 32GB and 64GB becoming the norm while we may also see better performing and better looking applications as well. The transition period is likely to be negligible given that ART has been available to developers since the launch of Android 4.4 KitKat last year.
We’ll see in a few hours at Google I/O how Google will move forward with the paradigm shift and how this will affect Android from OEMs moving forward.