Intel pushes Android for x86 with VM guide

Intel is hoping to get developers interested in its port of Google's Android platform for the x86 architecture - largely in the hopes of convincing OEMs that its Atom chip is a realistic alternative to ARM's multifarious low-power designs in the smartphone and tablet markets - with a guide to getting a virtualised environment set up.

The guide, published this week on Intel's Software Blog, addresses a key issue with Android on x86 development: the lack of an easy way to test applications without access to physical hardware.

"This is the first of a blog series arming [ironic sic] at introducing a customer driven solution of developing, testing and validating apps with virtual Android, unconventional installation via VDI conversion, bridged networking and integration with Android Eclipse/DDMS platform," writes the guide's author Tao Wang.

Using Oracle's free VirtualBox virtual machine platform, Wang's guide walks users through installing either Android 2.2 'Froyo' or Android 2.3 'Gingerbread' on a virtual machine, including a few gotchas that will ensnare the unwary.

The chief issue with running Android on a generic virtualisation platform is simple: the lack of hardware keys. Designed for smartphones and tablets, Android expects certain keys - including a Menu key, a Back key, and a Search key - to be built in to the device. With no such keys available, using the software can be tricky.

Thankfully, Wang provides a cheat-sheet containing keyboard shortcuts that are bound to the Android hardware buttons. Wang also provides a guide to configuring networking in order to install applications from the AndAppStore, in the absence of official Google Market access.

"VirtualBox Android has pretty much all the functionality of an Android device," Wang writes, "except for the ability to make calls and the price tag."

While Google provides a means of emulating an Android device on the desktop already - the Android Virtual Device, or AVD - Wang argues that his virtualisation method has several key advantages. "There is no doubt, Android-x86 in VirtualBox is way faster than Google AVD," he claims, pointing to its native use of x86 rather than an ARM emulator.

The full guide is available here, although it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to help boost Intel's chances in a market dominated by ARM and its multitudinous licensees.