Sunday, July 8, 2012

Run native ARM Android Apps on your Macintosh

Back at Google I/O, Bluestacks made some headlines that announced you could run Android apps on a Mac.I took it for a spin and have something to report.

It is an early alpha so they have to work some kinks out. They have a curated set of 17 apps such as Facebook, twitter, flipboard and Angry Birds. I tried it and quickly removed it. It took 15 seconds to load which is way slow if you are running an SSD with 2 second Photoshop launches.
You can't install any other apps besides the curated apps.

It seems to be an emulator that does ARM binary to x86 translation. I heard of another similar project and decide to find out if it had a better experience.

BuilDroid is that project. Long time Mac users know what Rosetta did for the Mac OSX transition and this takes a similar approach.  If you remember, Rosetta did binary PowerPC translation for x86 and it ran reasonably well. This is the same idea but with a different architecture, ARM.
BuilDroid uses the "ARM binary emulator" from Intel ("libhoudini") to make this all work. Libhoudini is what will help Intel's Medfield ATOM platform enter the Android space.
This wan an genius idea to hack "libhoudini" and make an Android distro that runs inside VirtualBox.

The results? Well, VirtualBox booted the whole OS in less than 5 seconds vs Bluestack's 15 seconds.
You can install Google Play and download Google Apps and other applications from the market. I downloaded various apps and they work reasonably well. It has the full Ice Cream Sandwich OS with settings, notifications, and soft menu. In comparison, Bluestack is just an app launcher.

In fact, BuilDroid is faster than launching and running the Android SDK's simulator builds.

Both are early stage developments but I am leaning toward BuilDroid. I haven't tried BuilDroid on another operating system but I assume it will work just fine since it is running in VirtualBox.


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