Android’s Audio Latency Problem
There’s been noticeable disquiet around the combination of Android and audio for many years, and understandably so. We posted an article last month on how the changes in the upcoming Android M could affect the implementation of audio applications and what we hoped that would mean for the platform as a whole, and since then we’ve come across a few sources that make the logic behind all this a lot easier to digest.
Really what’s underpinning this is the issue of audio latency in Android, especially when compared to other operating systems. Latency, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is simply the time it takes a signal to reach a certain point (usually a round trip). In popular culture you find it mentioned a lot in online gaming, where latency contributes to the ‘lag’ that a player experiences between their input and its response on a shared game. In audio, it’s easiest to describe it as the time it takes an audio signal to come into your device, go through some sort of conversion and processing, and come back out again.
Android was never built with low-latency concerns in mind. Due simply to the way it was designed, it’s impossible to achieve the kind of latency required for powerful audio manipulation apps or in live situations where synchronicity is key. This is something that enthusiasts are only too aware of, but for the average user, the lack of audio software in the Play Store especially when compared to rival iOS is what makes this obvious. Some manufacturers, like Samsung, have gone as far as creating their own APIs in order to try to reduce the latency on their devices, and with some success, but in doing that they’re still limiting the commercial scope of any audio app to their products only, discouraging companies from putting the time into developing the software in the first place.
To demonstrate this in real world terms, check out this article to find a fairly extensive list of Android devices and what the latency of this audio journey actually is. This could be useful for developers who ARE looking to create music focussed applications, and at least we can see a marked increase (generally) as the OS has matured. Again, Android M should continue this trend, but it’s not clear by how much, and personally we doubt it’ll be the game-changer it needs to be quite yet.
Secondly, if you’d like a full explanation of why this is the case, jump into this excellent article. It explains in detailed but clear tones what actually happens to an audio signal and the many stages it has to go through within the OS. One thing to bear in mind is that the writers are trying to push their own solution to the issue by trying to replace most or all of this process, but if this is adopted and ends up benefiting the consumer, then we all profit.
Hopefully in the not too distant future, these kind of concerns will be negated, and musicians and producers won’t be instantly pushed towards the relatively better equipped Apple camp. Google needs to put some focus on this aspect of Android as it will take some serious work for it to become competitive in this regard, but thankfully it does look like Android M will be a start.
Can you see yourself using Android as part of your audio set up in the future? Let us know in the comments!