Nvidia Tegra 2: A new form of Android fragmentation?

With these new dual-core platforms hitting the market, game developers are beginning to optimize their titles around specific hardware such as the Nvidia Tegra 2. Is this good or bad for Android?

Game developers are optimizing performance around specific hardware, such as Nvidia's Tegra 2. NVIDIA

One wouldn't naturally associate chip- and GPU-maker Nvidia with apps, but nevertheless, the free Tegra Zone appeared today in the Android Market. The app showcases current and forthcoming games that have been optimized for the Tegra 2 platform and promise cutting-edge gameplay and graphics.

Clicking on a game title provides reviews, trailers, videos, and comments. If you want to buy a game, Tegra Zone redirects you to the Android Market.  Some of the games highlighted at launch time include optimized versions of Fruit Ninja and Backbreaker Football, which now carry a Tegra High Definition "THD" suffix.

A closer alignment
Nvidia's app is just one indicator of what could be a new trend. Take a look around the Android Market and you'll see that software companies and game developers are aligning themselves with specific processors and chipsets. Just a few weeks back we learned that Netflix will be finally arriving on Android , starting with Qualcomm's new breed of Snapdragon processors.

Perhaps as part of some exploratory way of monetizing apps, developers are releasing games that play best on particular architecture. For all the power that Samsung Galaxy S phones possess, their Hummingbird processors might not be enough to handle games that are built for the dual-core Tegra 2 or a comparable system.

Just today, Qualcomm announced that it has partnered with game maker Gameloft to produce HD versions of its titles optimized for Snapdragon processors, including the "MSM(R)8x55 and dual-core MSM8x60." This means that we'll see some great games like Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus and Assassin's Creed Altair's Chronicles later this year, but tweaked to favor Qualcomm's new dual-core chip.

Processing power
This shift to the processor leads me to ask you: which processor do you have in your phone? Chances are pretty good that you don't know off the top of your head. What's more, your friends who are buying their first smartphones may not know either. I'd even venture that many retail sales reps cannot tell you what is under the hood of most Android devices.

Enthusiasts and early adopters might argue the point, but most consumers don't have the education necessary to buy a device that gives them the experience they desire. And if you thought it was bad enough now, given the various versions of Android available, it could get even uglier.

We could be looking at a new type of Android fragmentation. As Andrew Kameka of Androinica points out, this hardware-based fragmentation might be good for developers, who wouldn't need to contend with all the various devices and designs. Deliver a great experience to a select group of people, he argues, rather than satisfy the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, specialized experiences could anger people who buy a new phone only to find it doesn't look as smooth as their friend's older handset.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Are you concerned about developers and hardware makers pairing up for these types of chip-specific games, or do you welcome the idea?

 

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