Now that Android Studio is faring quite well for its core necessities, the tools team is tackling some of the bigger challenges. A couple of weeks ago, they featured a new ability to deploy a limited set of changes to apps without fully restarting them. This week they're shooting to take on one of the longest and most requested items on the list: a faster and more useful emulator.
The biggest boost to speed can be seen while running Android 6.0 on the new emulator. This comes from newly added support for Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP), which allows the emulator to take full advantage of multiple processor cores on a computer.
Before we start, let's get one thing out of the way: there's no practical application for the apps demonstrated below, at least not in the way they're being used. You can't seriously play a game meant for a 20-button controller on a screen smaller than two inches across, even if your fingers are tiny enough to hit the virtual buttons. This is the work of an enthusiast gamer and Android fan. It doesn't have to make sense.
Alright, now that that's out of the way: YouTube user Hacking Jules would like you to see his collection of game emulators running on Android Wear.
PPSSPP is an impressively capable emulator for the original Sony PlayStation Portable, and today it's a little more so. The 1.1 update adds a ton of new features, or at least it officially adds them - support for Android TV and ARM64 seems to have been there for quite a while, since I've been playing Power Stone on the NVIDIA SHIELD TV since we published the review back in May.
Other changes include screen rotation support for those few PSP games that can be played in a vertical layout, the usual collection of improvements to general performance, audio, GPU compatibility, and AdHoc multiplayer mode, and savestates for homebrewed PSP apps.
One of the biggest challenges to creating good apps for Android Auto has been actually testing the experience. Many independent developers can't afford to purchase brand new cars with Auto built-in, and aftermarket head units won't fit in most recently manufactured cars without heavy modification, and most of those units aren't very good anyway. When the Auto SDK came out, it included simulators that could be used for basic testing of just the messaging and media browser interfaces, but even these weren't good substitutes for the real thing. Today, Google released the Android Auto Desktop Head Unit, a functioning implementation of the Android Auto platform that runs right on a desktop or laptop.
Microsoft surprised Android developers last year with the launch of a brand new emulator designed for performance and features that aren't available anywhere else. While the initial Preview release only included an image for KitKat, subsequent updates introduced an expanded set of emulator images and some valuable new features. While a high-speed emulator is certainly compelling, many developers still didn't adopt it because it had to be downloaded and installed alongside a very large Visual Studio package, not to mention it was also frustrating to set up for use with other IDEs. Last week, Microsoft unburdened the emulator and released it as a standalone download along with step-by-step instructions to set it up to easily run with Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT.
The Nintendo DS, though pretty old by game standards, is a tricky thing to emulate. Aside from the dual screens, it uses standard button, touchscreen, and microphone inputs, and it has a plethora of 2D and 3D games available. Despite this, DraStic remains the best emulator for the DS on the Play Store (and one of the most complete emulators for Android regardless of system). The latest update adds even more goodies.
First and foremost, DraStic is now compatible with Android TV, much to the delight of SHIELD TV owners. (Hint: remap one of the extra buttons on your controller to switch between the Nintendo DS screens.) There's also a new high-resolution 3D mode - polygonal graphics can be upscaled for HD play in ways that won't work for pixel graphics.
Today's Android devices are powerful enough to run circles around most game consoles of yesteryear, but that doesn't mean emulating old hardware is easy. 2D games, sure, walk in the park—but replicating the original PlayStation is a different thing entirely. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped an Android developer from trying to tackle the even more powerful PlayStation 2.
Play!, as the emulator is called, also supports Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS. Here's a video of an Android tablet running Final Fantasy X. Though they aren't demonstrated, we can see that the tester also has Capcom Vs SNK 2, Dragon Quest VIII, Dynasty Warriors 2, Gradius V, Kingdom Hearts, and Space Harrier saved to the device.
The classic game emulation scene for Android is really blowing up. Not only do we have more single-use emulators than ever, more powerful hardware is opening up the sixth generation of home consoles like the Dreamcast and Gamecube. Today one of the more notable all-in-one emulators is getting a huge update on the Play Store: RetroArch. The multi-platform, multi-console emulator has updated its entire user interface system and added a few under-the-hood changes as well.
This video is from the Linux version of RetroArch, but it shows the new menu system in action.
The most striking addition is the user interface, with a cross-style main menu reminiscent of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.
Emulating games is hard, y'all. There are a ton of classic game emulators for Android, and most of them work really well... replicating relatively ancient, low-power hardware for two dimensions. Even something like the 20-year-old PlayStation is difficult (but not impossible) to emulate on the latest mobile hardware, which is objectively about a hundred times more powerful. That's what you get when console makers create more or less customized hardware and software that doesn't have to play nice with any other platforms.
Microsoft is in the midst of its annual Build conference. This is sort of like Google I/O or WWDC, but with fewer online viewers. Wednesday's keynote presentation was filled with announcements about Windows 10, the Microsoft Edge browser, an augmented reality headset, and quite a bit more. One product failed to earn stage time: the Visual Studio Emulator for Android, but developers may find renewed interest since the latest version is showing maturity as it expands through the addition of Device Profiles and a number of other recent enhancements.
We originally covered Microsoft's emulator for Android after a mid-November release during the Connect() conference.