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Google seeks to unlock Android 3.0 hardware power

A new interface coming in Honeycomb will let programmers write fast, low-level software that will work across a variety of devices.

Android's mascot generated with Renderscript
Android's mascot generated with Renderscript Google

An interface coming with the forthcoming Honeycomb version of Android will open up a new ability for programmers who want to tap into hardware power unlocked by low-level programming.

The new interface, is called Renderscript, said R. Jason Sams, an Android performance and graphics programmer at Google. He didn't say so in so many words, but the goal for the feature has to be better games on Android. It's a broader feature, though: it's used in Honeycomb's YouTube and Books apps.

"The target audience is the set of developers looking to maximize the performance of their applications and are comfortable working closer to the metal to achieve this," Sams said in a blog post yesterday. "The target use is for performance-critical code segments where the needs exceed the abilities of the existing APIs."

To that end, Renderscript exposes two hardware-accelerated interfaces, one for rendering 3D graphics and one for for power-efficient computing operations. To use it, Renderscript relies on a variant of the C99 version of the C programming language. And the Renderscript plumbing that comes along with Honeycomb, aka Android 3.0, makes the decisions about whether to run the computing jobs on regular or graphics processors.

The Native Developer Kit Google offers for Android already lets programmers directly access low-level hardware features. Renderscript has an important difference, though: it's cross-platform. Instead of coming with software coded just for a specific chip, it comes with scripts that are compiled into an intermediate format that is then translated for a specific device only when it runs.

One example of Renderscript in action is a physics simulation of 900 particles below interacting with each other and simulated gravity from a tilting Honeycomb tablet with a dual-core processor.

Updated 7:43 a.m. PT to clarify that C99 is an instance of the C programming language.