Android OEMs and chip makers are forging ahead with the move to 64-bits and it looks like it could be Intel who gets their first. The microprocessor giant is reported to have finished work on a 64-bit version of Android’s Linux kernel that has been designed especially for its Silvermont low power SoC processor microarchitecture. Silvermont is the foundation for two SoC ranges: Merrifield, which is intended for smartphones, and Bay Trail, which is aimed at tablets and hybrid devices.
During CES Intel revealed that it has been making code contributions to the 64-bit version of Android 4.4 KitKat and that the kernel work is now complete. According to Hermann Eul, Vice President and General Manager of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, Intel has worked to ensure that, at the kernel level at least, OEMs using Silvermont based Atom processors have a 64-bit version of Android available for use on their devices.
There is currently little or no news about Google’s plans to support 64-bits in Android but Intel has gone ahead and added support itself.
We don't want partners to be held up (by Google's delay). And when Google does provide that, partners can just slot that code into place.
Android is a complex modern operating system that consists of multiple layers with the Linux kernel at the bottom where the software meets the hardware. On top of the kernel are other layers like the various Android libraries, the Android run-time, different application frameworks and then on the very top the actual apps. Intel has ensured that the bottom layer, the kernel, will boot and work in 64-bit mode on Silvermont processors. However the rest of the layers seem at the moment to remain 32-bit and it is likely that a full conversion to 64-bits will take some time.
It isn’t clear what sort of changes Intel has made since the Linux kernel has supported 64-bit architectures for many years. More details about Intel’s support for 64-bit Android, especially for Merrifield based smartphones, are expected at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona next month.