ARM opens resource centre for Android devs

ARM wants to see Android prosper on its chips, predicting strong growth for the combination next year

ARM has launched a resource centre for companies developing ARM processor-based devices using the Android mobile operating system, while predicting major growth for ARM-based netbooks in 2010.

The Solution Center for Android, unveiled on Tuesday, is aimed at companies making anything from smartphones and netbooks to smart photo frames.

In a statement, ARM segment marketing chief Kevin Smith said the centre would serve as "a one-stop guide to provide developers with the tools and information they need to create innovative devices with applications that satisfy consumers' needs".

Smith added: "ARM is the leading processor architecture for internet-everywhere applications from mobile to the connected home and, with that leadership, ARM is in a position to foster an innovative ecosystem to ensure that device manufacturers have the best development solutions at their disposal."

The 35 companies that are involved in the Solution Center for Android include Archos, Montavista, Movial and Texas Instruments, among others.

ARM's mobile solutions head Rob Coombs told ZDNet UK the centre would make it easier for small companies to integrate new Android releases with their devices.

"Take Eclair [Android version 2.0] when it came out," Coombs said. "At the moment it's quite hard — it's a massive amount of code and, if you're a small developer, where do you go for help? It makes a lot of sense to try and put a lot of resources and contacts and devices together into one place."

Coombs said ARM's ecosystem already involved over 600 companies developing tools, boards and software and optimising media codecs, so the chip architecture firm was well placed to steer the new centre. He also said not everyone involved in the centre would have to be a member of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), the Google-led telecoms industry group that initially fostered Android's development.

"A lot of people outside the OHA want to do useful things with Android," Coombs said. "[The centre] is particularly useful for small enterprises and SMEs who want to create, say, a web-connected photo frame."

In September, ARM's main chip-design rival Intel launched a developer programme to attract applications for its Atom chipset. Atom is currently used almost entirely in netbooks and nettops, but Intel plans to use the low-powered processor in smartphones.

Conversely, ARM's latest Cortex A-series designs are set to make the leap from smartphones into netbooks or, as ARM calls cheap notebooks based on its architecture, 'smartbooks'.

According to Coombs, ARM-based smartphones and smartbooks will have performance and power consumption advantages over rival, Intel-based devices.

"Intel have been very public in in saying they want a slice of the smartphone market," Coombs said. "We've got more than 20 licensees of Cortex A8s and A9s, and that's got more performance than Atom. That's a battle that's yet to come and we think we're well placed on it — in the smartbook, we've got performance up to and beyond where Atom is today, before [Intel] have got their power consumption down."

Coombs said smartbooks would really "kick off" in the first half of 2010, to coincide with work emanating from Adobe's Open Screen Project, an initiative to have Flash-based rich media applications running across a variety of devices and platforms.

He also downplayed recent experiments with making Android run on x86-based devices, such as Acer's use of Android as a second operating system on its D250 netbook.

"The massive percentage of Android development today is on ARM — that's where the smartphone market is," Coombs said. "Because it's open source, people can move it onto other things. A lot of people want to use Android because of the apps. The marketplace is a key part of the proposition, and those apps are written generally for smartphones and MIDs."

"Most are using, within that code, ARM native code, because they want more performance than Java can give. That does mean [such apps] only run on ARM."