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Tackling Android Fragmentation with Intel's Reference Design

Tackling Android Fragmentation with Intel's Reference Design

Announced last September at the Intel Developer Forum, the Intel Reference Design for Android (Intel RDA) streamlines the development process for mobile system makers.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) can shop for a form factor reference design from pre-qualified original device manufacturers (ODM). Once the OEM selects a device, they have the opportunity to customize the OEM partition with apps, ringtones or wallpaper. Intel will handle all of the software QA, certification and testing need to bring the device to market, with the benefit to the consumer being a device with an up-to-date version of Android. And for two years after the device ships, Intel will provide free (to OEMs and consumers) software updates within two weeks of a Google Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code release.

Hillarie Prestopine, VP in Intel’s Software and Services Group and director, Open Source Technology Center (OTC) Core Operating System Engineering, explains the goal that Intel set for itself, how Intel works with Google, and the key quality needed for success.

Q: Can you explain the Intel Reference Design for Android (Intel RDA) and its strategic value for Intel?

A: The Intel RDA is a joint program that we kicked off with Google around June of last year. The premise was to accelerate deploying the latest Android OS into the market on our latest hardware. Additionally, we are able to more closely collaborate with Google from a technology perspective.

In November, we deployed the latest Android release 5.0-Lollipop-on Intel Architecture just two weeks after Google released the AOSP version of Lollipop. We were the first platform on shelves with Lollipop running besides the Nexus devices. In April, we followed that up with the first Lollipop maintenance release to customers (LMR1) within two short weeks of Google’s AOSP release we were again first to market with the latest version of Android OS – Android 5.1. Through our close collaboration with Google and the new development process of the Intel RDA program, we’ve significantly shortened our development time, and subsequently, the time between release and deployment. In turn, Google’s new OS releases are more quickly available to end users.

Q: Do all the devices that have Android on IA now participate in Intel RDA?

We were the first platform on shelves with Lollipop running besides the Nexus devices.A: No. There are still other ways we deliver Android today. What we’re trying to do as part of the overall Android work across Intel is standardize and streamline how we develop productized operating systems. As this happens, it is easy to have all customers be part of the Intel RDA program, if they desire to be.

There are still a lot of OEMs and ODMs who want customizations on top of Android. Today they fall outside of the Intel RDA program-the heavy customizations may mean that you can’t keep the rapid pace of the two-week update windows. But we’re looking at how we make Intel RDA work for these customers as well – to help support more customizations and to make Intel RDA be something that they opt out of -as opposed to a program that they opt into.

Keeping the pace of a high-quality Android release on IA in a very short time window is a huge benefit to a lot of these customers. But we also understand that there are customers who may want to diverge a bit from the core Android user experience, which may add additional complexity in terms of what they would want to ship as an Android product, for example.

Q: So what’s the biggest challenge for Android development at Intel right now?

A: The biggest challenge is that development is not standardized across Intel. We made big strides in streamlining Android development across the company last year. I’d say we didn’t get 100 percent where we need to be, but we made great progress. There are a lot of new teams that sprung up across Intel that are now participating in a very big way in Android.

Q: What are your most immediate priorities?

A: Create a program in which we can quickly scale Android in an efficient way. We don’t want to add more and more resources to support more and more designs. Figuring out a programmatic way to scale development quickly is what we’re looking to do for Intel RDA moving forward, across various platforms. By the end of the year we will have added 3 additional silicon platforms to our already supported list.

Q: Does it get easier for each additional device that you bring on?

A: Yes. We have a great relationship with Google on a corporate perspective, but for our team, this was the first time we worked really closely with Google. And with any teammate or third-party company you collaborate closely with, you need to establish shared expectations and ways of working. This takes time and perseverance. Once you get that under your belt, it gets easier because you know what to expect, what questions you’re going to be asked, and what information you need to provide on quality of devices and such.

With the right thinking and the right teamwork, nothing is truly insurmountable if you just persevere.One such case was our first product. It needed to pass through a rigorous QA process, which was no easy feat. This experience gave us a great opportunity to lay a solid foundation for a strong, collaborative relationship between our two teams. This was also one of the first times that Intel shipped Android as a product out into the market and was directly responsible for the software to the end consumer. We own the update of the software to the end consumer devices. So we have to be able to ensure our testing takes into account the customer using the device when we send the update-Usually Intel sends their software through an OEM who then tests it, validates it and ships it off. Intel takes on this responsibility in the Intel RDA program.

Since we’ve laid those foundations, what we’re doing now to scale is just building upon those learnings, so it is getting easier.

Q: For someone who aspires to a role like yours, what’s one thing that you would tell them to develop?

A: Perseverance. That term shapes up a lot of my day. When I think back to when I first started, I can remember thinking some things were unachievable.

But with the right thinking and the right teamwork, nothing is truly insurmountable if you just persevere. I’d say that for most of my jobs at Intel, there were times when I thought things were impossible. But that’s when you sit down, roll up your sleeves and start really thinking; what’s important, what needs to be achieved, where do you start, how do you focus. Being able to persevere and push through issues is the key.

With the Intel RDA program’s two-week update commitment, for example, there was a debate if it was even possible because up until then we’d had much longer Android product release cycles. Did we have the capability and the know-how to significantly streamline our development to meet this commitment? The team proved that yes, we do.

Having that goal for the team was big. I think in order to achieve it, a lot of people had to step out of their normal role and just drive what had to be done. They persevered, even when there were times it looked like the goal was out of reach.

You push through the challenges. You remove the roadblocks. It may not be looking good at times, but you keep assuming that you can make it and then magic happens.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

Everybody asks, “How do you do it all?” And the response is that you just don’t.A: My kids. I have four of them. Ten, seven, five and two. [Laughs]

I can’t do everything. I do what’s important. Everybody asks, “How do you do it all?” And the response is that you just don’t. You don’t do it all.

You prioritize and look at your life holistically, and you make decisions on a daily basis.

What at work keeps me up at night? Figuring out how we really execute and ensure that we continue to effectively streamline the Android development model across Intel. Because I think that is super important for us to get right and make sure that we have a base OS and a model that is efficient for IA-based Android products that we can quickly scale from.

And ensure we can make deploying Android products a valuable business for Intel.

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