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Google just removed RISC-V support from the Android kernel

Facepalm: The open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture, evolved from other reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architectures, is winning international support and collaboration. However, Google has decided to stop being part of the RISC-V game.

A series of recently merged patches removed support for the “riscv64” processor architecture from the Android Common Kernel’s codebase. Android Common Kernel (ACK) are the main branches of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which informs all third-party and Google’s own Android implementations on mobile and wearable devices. Removing RISC-V support from ACK and AOSP effectively means that Mountain View is “killing” the ISA native implementation within its major computing platform.

Recently, many chip makers and processor designers have invested in the future of RISC-V. Google formally introduced RISC-V support on Android in October 2023. Qualcomm is already developing RISC-V chips for Wear OS, an Android version specifically designed for smartwatches and other types of wearable gadgets.

The open standard even provides some competition to Arm architecture in the SSD controller business, with significantly better results, according to Chinese manufacturer Yingren Technology. Removing RISC-V support from ACK/AOSP means that the upcoming Android releases will not work with RISC-V chips, although manufacturers could customize the mobile OS to add ISA support back in.

Considering how many ventures are interested in working with RISC-V, Google’s decision to stop AOSP from further nurturing the technology development is baffling. The RISC-V ISA is yet to materialize in a proper SoC project for smartphone applications, and the newly merged ACK patches will likely be a significant hindrance in this regard.

Asked to comment on the issue, a Google representative told Android Authority that the mobile OS will continue supporting RISC-V in the future. Due to the “rapid rate of iteration” of the ISA tech, Android is seemingly not ready to provide a single supported kernel image for all Android vendors.

Google is assuring the market that it will not kill RISC-V support in Android completely, but pushing the architecture out of AOSP means that the eventual commercial developments of this promising chip standard will take much longer than anticipated. Meanwhile, the RISC-V community is working on a Boot and Runtime Services specification to set an interoperable OS platform for device discovery, system management, and other essential system operations.

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