The next "L" version of Android employs a new software foundation that will double software performance, the company said Wednesday at its Google I/O show.
The software layer, called the Android Runtime (ART), replaces today's Dalvik software, which has the job of running apps written for today's Android smartphones and tablets. Citing a number of tests, Android engineering director Dave Burke said ART roughly doubles performance.
"You don't have to make a change," Burke told developers at the Google I/O show. "All your app code gets the performance for free."
Performance is critical for mobile software, letting developers write more ambitious games, add fancier interfaces to utilities, and encouraging users to use those apps more actively.
Google introduced a prototype of ART in 2013 with Android 4.4 KitKat, but it wasn't activated by default. It caused some compatibility problems, but evidently Google is now assured it's solid. Programmers won't have to change any code, Burke said.
"We're finally ready to pull the trigger," he said.
ART also introduces another big change: It works on 64-bit chips -- and not just the ARM chip designs that power the vast majority of smartphone devices. ART supports the 64-bit ARMv8 architecture from ARM Holdings, the 64-bit x86-64 architecture from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, and the MIPS64 architecture from MIPS.
Apple has made its 64-bit shift already, a move that lets it use new acceleration features and access more than 4GB of memory. Now the Android ecosystem will be ready to follow suit.
ART and Dalvik are what's known as virtual machines -- a software layer that's in effect a computer unto itself that runs application software. That virtual-machine approach insulates software so it's easier to write Android apps that run on multiple chip architectures.