Google just removed RISC-V support from the Android kernel

Face palm: The open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture, which evolved from other Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC) architectures, is gaining international support and collaboration. However, Google has decided not to be part of the RISC-V game anymore.

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

Lately, many chipmakers and processor designers have been investing 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 designed specifically for smartwatches and other types of wearable gadgets.

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

Considering how many enterprises are interested in partnering with RISC-V, Google’s decision to prevent AOSP from further driving technology development is baffling. The RISC-V ISA has yet to materialize in a real SoC project for smartphone applications, and the newly merged ACK patches will likely pose a significant hurdle in this regard.

Asked to comment on the matter, a Google representative told Android Authority that the mobile operating system will continue to support RISC-V in the future. Due to the “fast iteration rate” of the ISA technology, Android is apparently not ready to provide a single supported kernel image for all Android vendors.

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