The Moment of Truth For High-End Android

AnandTech published their preliminary iPhone Plus and iPhone 6 Plus benchmark results yesterday.

The results are damning for Android.

Without going into detail, both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus posted solid but not incredible improvements compared to last year’s iPhone 5s.

The problem for Android is that none of the high-end Android phones that were released in the previous year (HTC One, Moto X, Galaxy S5, Xperia Z1s, LG G3, etc.) could even beat last year’s iPhone 5s. In browser based tests in particular, the iPhone 5s still managed to leave high-end Android devices in the dust; definitely an embarrassment for Google which continues to brag about their browser’s speed on the desktop.

The question is whether or not Android can catch up.

Android has two major cards that it can play to significantly improve performance.

One is to move to 64-bit hardware. Most Android devices, even the high-end ones are still on 32-bit. Apple managed to dramatically improve processing power as they moved to a 64-bit architecture and the hope is that Android might also see a good speed bump.

The other is Android RunTime (ART) which is the successor to Dalvik and will be introduced in Android L. Google has said that this can significantly boost performance.

Up till now, I have not seen any encouraging results. Benchmarks of Android L (on 32-bit hardware) have not shown performance improvements. On the other hand, a 64-bit Android phone (the HTC Desire 820) has been benchmarked (on the 32-bit KitKat OS), and the results are not impressive relative to high-end 32-bit Android phones.

I do not intend to draw conclusions from these preliminary benchmarks, none of which directly tell us whether 64-bit hardware on Android L will be significantly faster or not.

What I would like to say is that the next few months in which we can expect the official release of Android L and 64-bit hardware, will tell us whether or not Android will continue to lag behind iPhone or not.

If Android cannot match the iPhone 5s, let alone the iPhone 6, even with Android L and 64-bit hardware, then there we will have to accept a situation where Android can no longer compete in the high-end.