The huge gulf in available applications between Android and iOS has shrunk dramatically over the past several years, but there still exists a slight bias on the part of developers toward Apple’s smartphone platform. On top of this, iOS exclusive services like FaceTime and iMessage can leave many an Android user standing on the outside looking in when taking into account friends and family choosing an iPhone over a Google-based device. For those tired of feeling cutoff , for those sick of waiting for the latest app craze to be ported to Android, there is finally an answer.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Software Systems Laboratory have developed an “operating system compatibility architecture” that makes it possible to run native iOS apps on an Android device without modifying the code or performing an sort of optimization. Dubbed Cider, the interface layer is more than a simple virtual machine or emulator. Using compile-time code adaptation, Cider can translate — for lack of a better word — the foreign code of an iOS app in a manner that allows Android’s kernel to run the app natively. Diplomatic functions allow for foreign apps to interface with native software and hardware elements of an Android device.
As seen in the video demonstration above, Cider is far from perfect. While it indeed makes quick work of running iOS apps, performance and responsiveness are definitely hindered. It’s not a perfect solution, but as a proof of concept it is pretty compelling.
So what does Cider mean for the average Android (or iOS) user? At this point there is still work to be done and it could be quite some time before the system trickles out to the general public — if it ever does. Expect both Apple and Google to respond should Cider move beyond the realm of computer science experiment. In a marketplace largely driven by exclusive software and features, it’s almost a guarantee that Apple will not be happy with the idea of their native iOS apps running on a piece of Android hardware.