What does Android’s possible switch to ART mean for Xposed and other apps?

June 19, 2014

samsung galaxy s5 android kitkat logo 1

When the Android runtime (ART) was first introduced with KitKat late last year, many folks praised the move, as the new runtime brought with it the promise of a faster and more fluid Android experience. At the time the runtime was billed as a experimental feature and that meant it was far from perfect.

While most folks who made the switch to ART did notice an improvement in how quickly Android ran (even if the difference was negligible for some apps), it also became apparent that certain apps and services would not play nicely with the runtime such as Whatsapp and several games.

Earlier today we learned that a pair of commits in AOSP suggest that Dalvik is dead, and that the next major version of Android could very well end up not only running ART as default but it may no longer have a way to switch back to Dalvik. Considering ART is known for not playing nice with some apps and with the XPOSED framework, what does ART mean for the future of these incompatible apps?

The good news is that while ART may cause problems, the issues will likely be temporary.

Angry Birds GO screenshot

Apps that currently don’t play nice with ART

The number of apps that don’t support ART have shrunk considerably since the runtime first debuted. That said, depending on the accuracy and recency of the unofficial Android Runtime website, there are still dozens of apps that aren’t supported including Angry Birds Go!, AutoCad 360 and Bittorent.

there are still dozens of apps that aren’t supported by ART

So what will happen when ART rolls out? If these developers don’t take the most recent AOSP commits as a red flag to make changes, there’s a chance that these apps will simply cease to work when the next version of Android first rolls out (providing it really ditches Dalvik).

That said, most developers will act quickly either ahead of the formal announcement or immediately after. There’s also the possibility that a more stable, polished version of ART will have better compatibility with existing apps and so some of these developers might not have do make any changes at all.

For those wondering about root apps? For the record, these apps should play nicely with ART as well — provided the developers make any required changes, if they haven’t already.

xposed-framework Image source: Addictive Tips

Will ART kill Xposed framework?

The biggest question that folks probably have is what the switch to ART will mean for Xposed. Speaking in the comment section over at XDA, Xposed developer rovo89 shed a little light on this situation, making it clear that YES, Xposed will be affected by this transition and will likely not work with the next version of Android (provided it runs ART) immediately when it rolls out.

On the bright side, rovo89 remains fairly confident that the framework will eventually be made to work on ART and he reveals that he even has a very experimental test build designed for ART. So why not get everything ready ahead of time? In his own words:

ART is pretty complex, with lots of different operation modes that need to be tested. I figured it would be a waste of time to do so before ART becomes more stable. The fact that they are still pushing changes every day, including several huge internal refactorings (which will require adjustments in my code) confirms this.

if you absolutely can’t live without XPOSED, you’ll probably be waiting a bit to make the upgrade to the next version of Android

Bottom-line, if you absolutely can’t live without XPOSED, you’ll probably be waiting a bit to make the change upgrade to the next version of Android. Once the official (stable) version of ART is made available, rovo89 will begin the work involved in making the Xposed framework compatible. He says that waiting also allows him to see how other changes like dual-stack 32/64-bit Zygote and very strict SELinux policies expected in the next version of Android might impact Xposed.

How long of a wait might you be in for? There’s really no way to tell for sure, as obviously there are factors that could affect the conversion effort. Again in his own words, please don’t freak out if it *still* isn’t published three days after Google I/O. If it takes a few weeks, then that’s what it takes.

Google wouldn’t switch to ART if it wasn’t ready for primetime

Sure, Google sometimes releases products in state this isn’t necessarily 100% polished, but with something as big as a change in runtimes to ART — you can bet that Google has done everything possible to ensure an easy transition. There’s likely to be a few bumps in the road, but ultimately moving to ART is a positive shift for Android and most of us will not miss Dalvik.

Any other potential major issues with the switch to ART that you are aware of that we didn’t touch on? Please elaborate in the comments below.

Comments

  • MasterMuffin

    I think after I/O there should be a beta and after 2 weeks if no bugs are found, they’d release the next Android version to everyone (well everyone meaning the few lucky ones!).

    • Guest123

      “if no bugs are found”

      HA!

      That was a good one!

      • MasterMuffin

        I just realized that xD *after all found bugs are fixed

        • Krzysztof Jozwik

          Doesn’t fixing one bug cause 5 more to pop up?

          • Guest

            This.

    • joser116

      An Android beta, just like an iOS beta. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?!

      • Daniel DS

        Because Google releases they’re updated right after the keynotes unlike with Apple who teases with unfinished OS builds and releases them as betas for the following 6 months

        • joser116

          If you look at your comment, it’s not really an answer to my question.

          • mobilemann

            @joser116:disqus well, @DS1997247:disqus is just trolling, and is not making an actual comment. He’s just hating because it’s not the same brand that’s in his pocket, and that deeply upset’s him, probably just insecure.

      • Paco Inurreta

        We are all basically running betas.

        • joser116

          Basically yeah, but if it’s done like iOS, it would help alleviate the Android updates problem.

      • JD

        i know plenty of ios users who never update right away anytime they get an update notification they wait at least a month or 2 because their usually ends up being problems.

    • Corbin Crutch

      That’d be cool

    • JD

      I’m sure all will be well. Most the bugs I heard about for Nexus devices are usually just the minority with really loud voices. I have yet to have issue with my Nexus 5, from 4.4 – 4.4.3

      • MasterMuffin

        Same here, never had an issue. But the bugs do exist for some, I’d look better for Google if there were less :)

  • alle

    can app that support ART also run on Dalvik (backward compatible) ?

    • http://geekinkuwait.blogspot.com/ Abhishek Kumar

      I guess no

    • Krzysztof Jozwik

      Seeing as how most apps work on ART and Dalvik, I’d say yes.

  • Sandro

    I’ve been using ART since my Moto X updated to KitKat. No issues for me.

  • Anthony Castanza

    Edit: I was wrong, looks like Rovo’s made new statements since his AMA.

  • Stephan Hall

    Been using ART on my Nexus 5 since 4.4.3 and has had no issues. I am very impressed with the increase in overall reponsiveness. Apps load some much faster. It’s been very impressive. The N5 is fast anyway but ART just makes it smoke. Very, very cool!

    • s2law

      I was initially reluctant to switch to ART because of the early Whatsapp compatibility issues. I’m now 3 months in and have noticed a significant improvement in apps opening, particularly Facebook. I think this will make a huge difference on lower end devices. I do miss xposed though :(

  • Anonymousfella

    Why don’t Samsung devices running 4.4.2 show an option for ART Runtime? Can’t find any such option on the S4 and Note3 in the developer options

  • Nacos

    How will the custom recoveries like TWRP/CWM be affected?

    • MasterMuffin

      In no way

    • A Skylit [S]unjΔy

      They work perfectly with ART.

    • quattro

      They run in their own environment, so even if there’s no os installed on your phone, they will still work. Recoveries are not afffected by os at all

  • mthomka

    By the time the device maker updates the device to the next android version I’m sure that this will be long taken care of

  • Daniel DS

    I didn’t switch my Nexus 4 to ART because I can’t live without Xposed on it and the performance is still very good, but I did switch to ART on my Nexus 7 since the performance on Dalvik was terrible, on ART it’s about twice as fast than on Dalvik, at least it feels like it

    • moto x

      I wanted to use art on my moto x but it doesn’t play well with some of my everyday apps. So back to dalvik for me.

  • ziplock9000

    I’ve been using ART since it became available. I’ve only had one app out of about 80 that had issues.

  • http://liveinalux.com/ mankulito

    i hope Google will delete junk from Play, there are still apps last updated in 2010.

  • vosg

    I’ve tried ART on my M8 but I was not impressed. Device refused to reboot, some apps crashed, and xposed framework was unusable. I also didn’t notice any improvement in performance whatsoever.

    • Sunny

      It’s in beta don’t worry when final comes out you’ll get imrpvoed performance

  • Nagasaky2x

    Considering the speed of companies for software updating, I don’t think developers actually need to be too fast with this, taking into account that Samsung dominates the Android smartphone in terms of % of users and that they don’t update most of their phones.