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Here is why Android is laggy and why it’s going to remain like that in the near future

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Here is why Android is laggy and why it’s going to remain like that in the near future
Have you noticed that Android is laggy? It is. We hoped things would change with dual-core processors and when we got the LG Optimus 2X in our trembling hands, the first phone running on the dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2, we nervously swiped to the homescreen, then to the main menu, then to the weather app. The lag was still there, but we couldn’t understand why - the raw hardware muscle was there already. What was wrong? Turns out, the problems is rooted deeper, in the very origins of the platform. Android's UI was laggy because it was coded differently than iOS and we’re not talking about Android’s bytecode against iOS’s native code.

Now, after Google engineer Dianne Hackborn brought up the topic of hardware graphics acceleration, Android’s lagginess has finally gotten in the limelight for some confessions which 200 million users of the platform are waiting for. Former Google intern Andrew Munn dug deep into the topic with more insights coming from Android software engineer Romain Guy who worked on Honeycomb’s full graphics acceleration and other engineers.

So with no further ado, the core reason why Android is laggy is the way it treats UI rendering. While on iOS UI rendering happens in a separate thread with real-time priority, on Android this happens in the main thread with normal priority. This of course means that other apps can take over your processor resources and hurt basic UI interactions, translating into a noticeable lag. Munn examplifies this with Safari and the Android browser - if you tap and hold into the Safari window while it’s loading a webpage, the loading process stops, as UI rendering has the highest priority and takes over. The result is that the webpage will not load until you lift your finger off, but the UI will remain buttery smooth all the time. Android has a radically different approach - it will try to maintain a reasonable response rate for the UI and load the webpage, but often the framerates would drop causing a visible lag.

“Android UI will never be completely smooth because of the design constraints I discussed at the beginning:
UI rendering occurs on the main thread of an app
UI rendering has normal priority

[…] This is the same reason why Windows Mobile 6.5, Blackberry OS, and Symbian have terrible touch screen performance. Like Android, they were not designed to prioritize UI rendering. Since the iPhone’s release, RIM, Microsoft, and Nokia have abandoned their mobile OS’s and started from scratch. Android is the only mobile OS left that existed pre-iPhone,” Munn says.

Now, that’s a tradeoff that doesn’t seem acceptable for touchscreen smartphones. Interestingly, with dual-core processors, this is less noticeable, but an occasional hiccup still occurs more often than the user would like to see it. Hardware graphics acceleration alleviates the problem, but that’s where one of the most popular dual-core chips, the Tegra 2, however, falls a bit short as it has a low memory bandwidth and doesn’t support NEON for faster matrix math, so other chips like the Exynos one yield better performance.

We won’t spoil the fun of reading the whole article, but we’d summarize the core reasons for the laggy UI in Android. The lack of full hardware graphics acceleration until Honeycomb for tablets and ICS for phones, the imperfect garbage collection in Dalvik, inefficient UI compositing, and finally Dalvik itself as a virtual machine are all partly to blame.

But most importantly, unless Google changes the way UI rendering happens (to a separate thread) and its priority (to real-time), the issue of some lag on Android will likely persist. Why is this hard to do and what would change if it did happen? Hit the source link for a very interesting read.


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posted on 07 Dec 2011, 03:49 30

1. taz89 (Posts: 1946; Member since: 03 May 2011)


my exynos gs2 is lagless so this is not completely true

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:09 13

10. XiphiasGladius (Posts: 799; Member since: 21 Aug 2011)


Amen!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:55 16

45. ardent1 (Posts: 1983; Member since: 16 Apr 2011)


Here's what Andrew wrote that was omitted:

"Work on Android started before the release of the iPhone, and at the time Android was designed to be a competitor to the Blackberry. The original Android prototype wasn’t a touch screen device. Android’s rendering trade-offs make sense for a keyboard and trackball device. When the iPhone came out, the Android team rushed to release a competitor product, but unfortunately it was too late to rewrite the UI framework." (source: A. Munn's post on Google+)

Android was originally designed to compete against a BlackBerry!!!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 17:58

116. Lucas777 (Posts: 2121; Member since: 06 Jan 2011)


um as with every other major mobile os... is this schockin news?

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:26 3

33. ayephoner (Posts: 833; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)


the article is not based on speculation or user experience.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:29 15

34. taz89 (Posts: 1946; Member since: 03 May 2011)


the article says that android will ALWAYS be laggy but how can that be true if the gs2 exynos models dont lag right now? gs2 proves that android can be lagless.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 09:28 5

71. downphoenix (Posts: 2232; Member since: 19 Jun 2010)


but only through very powerful hardware. And who's to say it wont lag when it gets Ice Cream Sandwich?

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 12:01 1

87. taz89 (Posts: 1946; Member since: 03 May 2011)


my guts says ics will be lagless on the s2...Samsung just seems to know how to make a android smooth unlike others...also with one of the best processor and the fact that ics is more energy efficient and uses hardware acceleration I see no reason for it to lag on the s2 considering gingerbread does not have hardware acceleration...also I have tried ics aplha roms on the s2 and is super smooth so I will bet that the official one will be even better

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 07:41 12

49. abdane (Posts: 471; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)


my SGS2 is not laggy ! o.O

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 09:01 8

69. rendHELL (Posts: 304; Member since: 09 Nov 2011)


that is So true....

go sammy!!!!....

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 09:49

73. shafboy (Posts: 179; Member since: 26 Sep 2010)


Will it not be smooth if Android change this?

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 11:37 4

84. andro. (Posts: 1927; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


agreedmy galaxy s2 and all my friends galaxy s2 phones are lagless also. Working for a phone network i test alot of phones and i can say the galaxy nexus,htc sensations,sony arcs and many others are lagless.

This article is a surprisingly poor from PA,maybe some android jealously behind it

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 18:00 2

117. Lucas777 (Posts: 2121; Member since: 06 Jan 2011)


live with each of them for a year and i bet you anything they will all be lagging at the end.. testing a phone for a day to see if it lags is not really a great test

posted on 08 Dec 2011, 04:41

194. Retro-touch (Posts: 239; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


My Samsung Captivate is lagless with a custom ROM of course. Its a KK4 Samsung leaked ROM thats been tweaked but even with third party apps I'm amazed at its speed of operation. Most other ROMs have had lag in browser, for example.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 16:43 3

111. The_Miz (Posts: 1496; Member since: 06 Apr 2011)


Kinda hard to lag if your phone has no signal. ZING!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 17:19

112. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


At least they fixed the bugs also its not all the galaxy

posted on 08 Dec 2011, 07:06 2

198. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


did miz just make an anti-apple joke??? lol

posted on 08 Dec 2011, 16:09

273. hepresearch (unregistered)


He did, and it was hilarious!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 19:50

124. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


@taz. I guess those google engineers don't know what they're talking about then :)

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 22:23

169. hepresearch (unregistered)


hmmmm... I guess gemini agrees with a Senior Programmer at Google when they have been discredited... even if he rips on others for agreeing with the guy... hah!

posted on 08 Dec 2011, 13:54

257. systamatics (Posts: 63; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


thats cause it has one of the ugliest UI in all android.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 03:49 7

2. The_Miz (Posts: 1496; Member since: 06 Apr 2011)


First. And this is why Android will always be second best - because of the lag. It makes no sense to have dual core, tegra powered phones that still have lag.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 03:58 6

6. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


At least read the hole thing

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:11 7

11. XiphiasGladius (Posts: 799; Member since: 21 Aug 2011)


First what? First troll I presume?

posted on 08 Dec 2011, 10:08

209. hepresearch (unregistered)


Indeed.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:14 6

12. ledbetterp3 (Posts: 466; Member since: 31 Aug 2011)


You are not first, you are showing the mindlessness of iphone users... Just kidding =P, but there are many reasons why android is better than iphone other than lag, I bet a lot of people will name those for you, so I won't bother, and the reason to have dual core processors is to reduce the lag noticeably, even though it doesn't rid it completely, so it is still definitely worth having.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:31 4

20. p0rkguy (Posts: 677; Member since: 23 Nov 2010)


if you tap and hold into the Safari window while it’s loading a webpage, the loading process stops, as UI rendering has the highest priority and takes over. The result is that the webpage will not load until you lift your finger off, but the UI will remain buttery smooth all the time. Android has a radically different approach - it will try to maintain a reasonable response rate for the UI and load the webpage, but often the framerates would drop causing a visible lag.
Sounds like a dumbphone.

posted on 10 Dec 2011, 16:25

315. Smokn04cobra (Posts: 22; Member since: 20 Feb 2011)


Forgive me if I am not understanding the point behind this...If you are able to "tap and hold the safari window to stop the webpage from loading and allow the UI to run buttery smooth" If you are in the safari window and you stop a web page from loading then won't you be starring at a webpage that isn't loading and a screen that isn't changing so I would assume that there aren't any parts of the UI that you would be able to see run "buttery smooth".

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:37 2

38. arcq12 (Posts: 733; Member since: 13 Oct 2011)


i cant stop laughing about this bullcrap..

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 08:14 3

58. iamcc (Posts: 1319; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)


Once again Miz, you love to be first even when you are second.

And yes, i'm referring to you thinking the iPhone is the best as well as your pathetic need to claim "first".

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 08:36 4

65. InspectorGadget80 (Posts: 5639; Member since: 26 Mar 2011)


The Miz SHUT THE FCK UP FOR ONCE. Youre getting very irritating.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 11:38

85. andro. (Posts: 1927; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


keep using your iphone and have new faults appearing my the week!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 08:14 3

60. iamcc (Posts: 1319; Member since: 07 Oct 2011)


WHOA DUDE

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 09:06

70. rendHELL (Posts: 304; Member since: 09 Nov 2011)


wow.... app addict or download addict??

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 10:36

79. jacko (unregistered)


i have 130 apps and my sgs II,razr,evo 3d, sensation are smooth

as i said i had iphone once and it was the biggest p.o.s i ever had
apps os froze all the time apps crashed

rarely happens on android the only one was the first sgs till os 2.3

android ftw

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 03:57 2

5. bbblader (Posts: 534; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


i kinda agree WP7 Symbian and iOS are the least laggy OS's and if Symbian had Dual Core you cant disagree that it will be smoother than iOS

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:01 1

8. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


Symbian is in the list

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:08

9. bbblader (Posts: 534; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


the most powerful processor that symbian runs on is 1GHz if it was dual-core 1,4GHz it will be a huge difference

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:27

15. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


Symbian is also hardware acelerated and I can sure tell you it helps. The alpha ICS rom Im on is quite the butter.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 03:59 7

7. ore123 (Posts: 10; Member since: 14 Nov 2011)


if android doesnt lag it will become the best OS yet .

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:21 3

13. Firedrops (Posts: 199; Member since: 06 Sep 2011)


Very good read, the source article explained the reason and reasons that the problem is not solved very well, as well as rectifying a few misconceptions I never even knew I had about android. Thanks PA!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:26 8

14. Jimstar (Posts: 259; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


Call me when this "lag" starts impacting the ability of the OS to be productive. Till then "woe is me" I guess. I'm just not one to flick across and up and down a screen and be tickled by how smooth something appears...because I'm not a blithering idiot and have bigger things to worry about.
That goes for all mobile operating systems, not just android.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:28 14

16. Mjay9090 (Posts: 4; Member since: 07 Dec 2010)


Solution is simple: BUY THE GALAXY S II . I have one and it is completely lag free !!!! That's probably one of the main reasons why Samsung is WINNING :D true story !!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:29 4

17. Croxy (Posts: 55; Member since: 06 Dec 2011)


A great article PA! Hope that google fixes those problems :/
I'm no expert so I must ask, could google fix all of these problems with a big update of android and still support all those apps it does now?

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:32 10

21. Sniggly (Posts: 6490; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


The problem is that if you actually want your system resources to be evenly distributed in order to keep everything running as well as possible, you can't assign special priority to keeping the UI smooth. Android: better at multitasking, not quite as good at UI smoothness. iOS: better at UI smoothness, not so good at multitasking.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:41 9

25. p0rkguy (Posts: 677; Member since: 23 Nov 2010)


Real question to every user when it comes to a situation like this is "Do you browse around the site while the site is still loading?"


As processing power gets better and better, Android will top iOS. iOS receives no gain from better processing. Whether or not Android has surpassed iOS presently is debatable.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 05:05 5

26. Sniggly (Posts: 6490; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


And guess who has two thumbs and browses sites while they're still loading?

*jerks thumbs at myself* Thas right. Sniggly does. ;)

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:31 2

35. Leo_MC (Posts: 394; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)


Often.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 06:44 7

43. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


the better question is "who the heck waits till the page is completely loaded before moving it around?"

I will happy take a slight drop in framerate over real functionality. Like always, i prefer the taste of steak to the sound of one.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:32 2

22. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


That my friend is the bigest issue they are working on having both

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:30 4

18. Netolic (Posts: 139; Member since: 18 Oct 2011)


lagg? small price to pay to have freedom over your phone.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 04:30 18

19. Sniggly (Posts: 6490; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


A dropped framerate isn't really lag. But I understand the issue better now. It doesn't really matter to me; I don't need my phone to be buttery smooth all the time. Sure, it'd be nice, and Android is actually pretty damn smooth now, but my top priority when choosing a phone is thus:

Does the smartphone do what I want it to do? Does it fulfill my needs? And does it fulfill them more efficiently than competing phones?

So my needs are:

A phone that is reasonably durable, has good call quality and reception, has a good amount of storage for apps, music and other media, is customizable so I can optimize it for my lifestyle, keeps me up to date on weather and my social media, and helps me navigate the real world.

Android phones are tougher than the iPhone, generally have better call quality and reception, some have the same internal space as an iPhone (with the option to expand with memory cards), allow me to change virtually everything about icon placement/appearance, and widgets stream information in real time without me having to go into separate apps. They also come with free navigation software, a capability which all other OSes lack.

I'm not saying that you can't eventually accomplish the same with iOS or Windows Phone 7, but let's face it, their solutions aren't always as elegant (for instance, the lack of native navigation software). Android as a whole package just adds up more than its competitors.

Some people have different priorities than I do. I get that. The iPhone appeals best to those to whom aesthetics is absolutely key. It has to look its prettiest or it's automatically s**tty. See, I'm weird. I'm able to find the beauty in some pretty ugly looking things. The industrial, robotic, angular designs of many Android phones actually appeal to me more than the iPhone does. I'm also willing to live with the instances of lag if it means I get to keep everything else that I get from Android.

All right, I'm done rambling. Now all I have to do is wait for some jackass to make some shallow remark about how I'm wrong, stupid, or whatever, without exactly quantifying why.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 05:59 6

30. HTCiscool (Posts: 449; Member since: 16 Jul 2011)


Great comment!

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 07:46 6

50. snowgator (Posts: 3159; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)


YOUR WRONG SNIGGLY YOUR WRONG!! AND I WOULD TELL YOU WHY, BUT IT IS A SECRET!!

Okay, really nothing you said was wrong. Everything was very well thought out and defended by your own experiences. I just didn't want to disappoint you. :-D

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 08:08 2

55. remixfa (Posts: 13902; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)


you beat me snowgator.. lol. :)

no, i completely agree sniggs.

besides, i love a good "machine" look. i like smooth "liquid" style for some metals and a good machined look for others. favorite car? the super hard angled and machined 89 lamborghini. It really depends on the subject to which i prefer.. :)

as far as phones go, functionality first.. always. if it cant do the things i need it to do, who gives a heck if it looks pretty in my pocket. ITS IN MY POCKET. lol

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 09:37 5

72. TalkingTechy (Posts: 97; Member since: 05 Dec 2011)


@Sniggly, I think you actually have a very good point.

I'm a perfect example of your thoughts: functionality over occasional lag.

As an iPhone 4 owner, I pretty much can't live without jailbreaking it. I jailbroke my phone on iOS4 and installed every tweak that existed. When iOS5 came out, I installed it right away. I knew it would kill my jailbreak, but didn't care because I really liked the new iOS5 features.

After a week or two, I missed my jailbreak (my most essential tweak I missed was one which allows you to go to previous/next song [long press volume buttons] and pause [hit both volume buttons simultaneously]. Great for in the car).

So, I jailbroke tethered and installed my most essential tweaks. Yeah, sometimes it's a little laggy when the camera opens and during other random tasks, but to me it's totally worth it for the customizability that jailbreaking brings.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 10:31

78. SlimSoulja86 (Posts: 642; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)


Amen! to that. I don't have a problem with my Galaxy Tab 10.1, I use an iPhone as phone, even if I won iPad 2, I think I'd have sold it and buy me Tab 10.1, for me as an individual, Apple it's to strict and I feel like I'm limited to what my phone can do, buying iPad2 while I have an iPhone seems to be useless [it's like someone with an iPhone and they buy iPod Touch, like WTF?, cos iPhone is kinda build in iPod Touch {iPhone is like an iPod Touch that can make phone calls}, while iPad it's like super sized iPod Touch, so having an Android device I'm able to customize it to reflect me (while iDevide all looks the same). I'm a crazy Media Student, yet my iPhone looks like the iPhone of someone who wears a suite everyday[I hate suites] yet we're completely different ppl.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 15:53 1

106. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


Wow sniggly, that's one long list of excuses. And you're arguing with senior programmers who contributed to android lol.

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 17:22

113. protozeloz (Posts: 5326; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


Seems like someone wants a flame war so bad

posted on 07 Dec 2011, 19:53

126. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


@proto. Yes. That's why my post is so lengthy and is so full of badmouthing android, while sniggly's post is short and sweet and never mentions anything negative about the iphone :)

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