With the release of Android KitKat 4.4 we have learned that Google is creating a new method to how Android apps run. Dalvik, the virtual machine that allows Android code to run on smartphones and tablets, is soon to be replaced by a new runtime engine called Android Runtime (ART).
Google said today that ART could replace Dalvik at the next possible opportunity, likely the next update to the Android operating system.
“I don't want to make promises but I imagine next release it could be ready. Maybe. We will switch over when it is ready. It is actually quite fast now and now we are just really optimizing it and assuming those optimizations go well I assume that we will be ready to switch over at the next opportunity,” said Android head engineer Dave Burke in an interview with ReadWrite. “We are working actively on it and we will port over on it when we think it is better than Dalvik in every way.”
Dalvik has been with Android from the very beginning of its life. Burke and Android engineers believe that it is getting fairly old. The Android team had not put a lot of active work into Dalvik to improve it other than optimizing it and making it portable for various evolutions of Android hardware.
"We looked at our runtime and asked, 'how do we evolve this thing?' How do we evolve it so it is the best runtime you could have for the next 10 years," Burke said. "We could have made tweaks to Dalvik and we decided that actually it was better to start clean. Because Dalvik is pretty old now. It started when Android started and we hadn't worked on it actively. We tweaked it and made it more portable but we hadn't been working on it actively developing on it."
Android Runtime works now and is available as a developer setting in any device running Android 4.4 KitKat. Burke notes that most consumers would probably not notice the difference. I have had ART running on an Nexus 5 since this morning and have noticed that apps may be a bit snappier, but otherwise it hasn’t negatively effected the performance of apps or the device.
The next steps for Google will be to really optimize ART. Especially, as Burke noted, with hardware and computer chip manufacturers.
“We are fine with writing version two of something. Think of ART as Dalvik 2.0,” Burke said. “It is still a work in progress. We didn't have to make it available this release, we could've kept going on it but I kind of pushed to make it available because I wanted to get it out early. I wanted to get devices manufacturers—especially chipset manufacturers that make different architectures—to play with it and optimize it. And I wanted app developers, just the curious ones, to try it out and see if they have any issues.”