Most Android-powered smartphones have been shipping with a GPU for quite some time. (For those who don’t know, think of a GPU as a central processing unit for anything that you can see on your screen.) The problem has been that Android itself hasn’t had that much support for taking advantage of a phone’s GPU. Games and other graphics-heavy apps have been able to tie into the GPU via APIs, but for the run-of-the-mill app, they didn’t get any of the extra speed that utilizing the GPU would have given them.
With Ice Cream Sandwich, that’s about to change.
Any app that’s developed against the Android 4.0 SDK (API Level 14) will get a performance boost automatically. Why? All the “visual stuff” will be routed through the GPU by default — which it can do much more efficiently than the CPU, and will make the app run faster.
Not only that, the CPU core (or cores) won’t have to do the visual processing, which will free it up to do actual “CPU stuff”, making the app run faster still.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb gave developers the ability to turn on hardware acceleration, but it wasn’t toggled by default.
According to pocketnow.com reader Rawat, utilizing the GPU will likely result in a “smoother” experience, rather than a “faster” one. Most end-users may not differentiate between “smooth” and “fast”, but the difference is there. The example he cites is scrolling in the browser: the page is already loaded with data, but displaying it on-screen is often slower than you can flick up and down through the content — resulting in an experience that’s anything but “smooth”. Using the power of the GPU will make the experience smoother and much nicer to look at.
According to Romain Guy and Chet Haase (Android engineers):
“With this new pipeline, all drawing operations performed by the UI toolkit are carried out using the GPU. You’ll be happy to hear that Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, brings an improved version of the hardware-accelerated 2D rendering pipeline to phones, starting with Galaxy Nexus. In Android 4.0 (API level 14), hardware acceleration, for the first time, is on by default for all applications.”