The Android ecosystem is rapidly moving toward a future with RISC-V. This shift gained momentum when Google announced official support for RISC-V in Android, aiming to use the architecture on par with ARM chips. Qualcomm has taken another important step in this direction by announcing the development of the first ever mass-produced RISC-V Android system-on-chip (SoC), reports ArsTechnica. This chip, which is being developed in collaboration with Google, does not yet have an official name, but is called RISC-V Snapdragon Wear. Qualcomm intends to commercialize this RISC-V-based solution for Android Wear wearables.
RISC-V poses a significant challenge to Arm’s processor architecture, which currently dominates smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches. The open nature of RISC-V could make it more cost-effective and versatile than the ARM architecture, allowing companies to develop their own chips without license fees. This open source architecture also allows for the creation of fully open chips. Moreover, companies can develop their own chip designs and license them, positioning themselves as competitors to Arm in the processor development space.
The adoption of RISC-V is also seen as a way to circumvent various issues associated with Arm. The company has been at the center of several controversies, including its unstable ownership status, changing business models, and involvement in the US-China trade war. These factors have led Chinese companies to consider RISC-V as an alternative.
Qualcomm’s announcement is not the first step in the direction of RISC-V. Previously, the company has already used RISC-V cores in several chips as secondary microcontrollers within the larger ARM SoC system. However, these were not the main system processors, but smaller chip components. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, released in 2019, was the first processor to use RISC-V for some microcontrollers. To date, Qualcomm has shipped more than 650 million RISC-V cores.
Moving to a RISC-V system processor for Android will require a lot of work. It includes the development of SDKs, compilers, libraries, and more to support the new architecture. Google is actively working to make Android compatible with RISC-V. Fortunately, most Android applications written in Java or Kotlin will be RISC-V compatible once the Android Runtime (ART) is adapted to output RISC-V code. The main problem is with programs written using the Android NDK, which contains many libraries.
This announcement marks the beginning of the RISC-V ecosystem for Android. Qualcomm said that more information about the launch of a commercial RISC-V-based product for wearable devices will be provided in the future.