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What are the Vulkan APIs, and what do they mean for Android?

There's a new technology being played with by developers all around the world right now, and if you've been paying attention to the Desktop gaming world you've probably heard the world Vulkan tossed around recently. Folks excited about Vulkan aren't talking about Spock, but are actually excited about a new set of APIs with the lofty goal of making it possible to build a single game for multiple platforms and have that game outperform the current industry standard by leaps and bounds.

Here's what you need to know about Vulkan, and why you're going to be hearing a lot more about this over the next year.

You probably don't know it, but most of the games you play on your phone rely on a system that was built for a much older kind of computing in order to deliver you the experiences you have today. OpenGL ES has been considered an industry standard for a long time now, but it was built for a time when single-core processors ruled the computing world and to this day doesn't do enough to take advantage of multi-core processors. In a world where desktop and mobile processors are being released with four, six, and even eight cores on a regular basis, this causes a massive performance gap that needs to be addressed.

Basically, Vulkan means better gaming experiences and higher quality games are on the way to Android.

Vulkan is an open source framework aimed at multi-threading in a way that OpenGL ES simply isn't capable of. It gives developers the tools to make their games more efficient by allowing the game better use of the processor, and is designed in such a way that it can be used for computing and rendering alike. It's largely based on APIs originally conceived by AMD called Mantle, but have since been expanded and improved by the Khronos Group which changed the name to Vulkan in the process.

Version 1.0 of Vulkan was released recently for Windows, Linux, and Android. On Android, where single-core performance is already not spectacular, this is a really big deal. Offering developers a way to better utilize the processor on an Android phone or tablet means the same game would consume significantly less power to deliver the same results. It also means developers can ramp up to better graphics, more challenging game environments, and a better overall game experience on our existing processors.

Vulkan members

As is often the case with new technologies like this, Vulkan is going to take a while to be available to everyone. NVIDIA has already released developer builds for their current-generation Android tablets and consoles, but that's a very small corner of Android for now. If you take a look at the list of members for the company supporting Vulkan, the Khronos Group, you'll see that the rest of Android is not likely to be far behind in supporting this technology. Google, Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm, Huawei, and several other big names are on a list of dozens currently contributing to Vulkan. It's likely we won't see anything from Google about Vulkan natively in Android until the next big version release, but there's a better than good chance we'll see more about Vulkan and Android before that happens.

Basically, Vulkan means better gaming experiences and higher quality games are on the way to Android. It's a great step forward, but it's also the kind of thing that is likely to take a while for everyone to fully enjoy. Before long it's likely we'll see developers showing off what they've accomplished with Vulkan, and that's when things will get really exciting.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • Developers have already said they really wont be using it. No point really. Gaming on android is at an all time low and only expected to get lower.
  • The current top 10 paid apps are all games. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah but not triple A stuff that seems like it would benefit from this tech. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Thats because the most people that buy apps are kids. Take a look at any business man device you and you will maybe find one game to pass the time but nothing like that. Also you cant trust that. Many developers are paying for downloads and reviews. This is a very common thing. A few of us did a test and released an app and was contacted by at least 10 companies offering to do reviews and to boost downloads.
  • Your statement that mostly kids play games is in no way a response to his statement about the popularity of games. You said gaming was at an all time low, he countered with a factual statement, you made a completely irrelevant statement in response. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It was relevant because what you see in the top charts are not accurate in anyway. So the facts he posted are not really facts. Downloads and ratings are easily manipulated and are done so daily. As for the kids comment. If you watched the ages of people downloading games then you would see that it is mostly kids and people from smaller developing countries. Mobile gaming is not really popular and will become even less, bust watch and see.
  • Well, maybe if you apply it to current style gaming. But with VR headsets about to be an actual THING, mobile gaming will be huge. So this is an important step for the industry to take. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Only thing manipulated was your comment...aijphoney user? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Sigh, so you have nothing to backup your argument. I didn't think you did. Look at the top charts on the play store, the top grossing apps are all games. You got nothing son, get back to me when you have anything to backup your statements. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Those charts are meaningless. You want proof. Just make an app and then watch how fast you have people offering to get you thousands of downloads and 5 star ratings all for a small price. Even Google has admitted that those numbers are not accurate. Now All I can say is sit back and watch. When you see games become less and less then come back here. Anyone that believes those charts doesn't have the mental clarity to argue with
  • I know this is late to the game on this comment section, but you're really the one with the burden of proof here since you made the initial claim. I would love to see some stats regarding gaming being at an all time low on Android - that would actually give me some encouragement that there are still people in the world with priorities! :)
  • Oh it's low but it's not going to get lower lol. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Links and numbers to back up your assertions please. Thanks. Posted via the Android Central App
  • the problem with gaming on android or mobile technology is input, tactile screen is just not enough, but i think nvidia is doing a good job in this front and when this problem get resolve, LG with the module thing may have the key for a smartphone with a controller,we will see that most of the people will be playing exclusive on they phones and i think mostly on tablets, i think classical console days are number
  • you can use ps3 controller.
    well, at least for games that supported it.
  • like this developer?
  • Great step forward, already a lot of progress in core development. Many power players moving quickly. Android gaming looks to be ready to leap forward again.
  • Awesome news...
  • Spam? Pluto is STILL a planet!
  • So better games, with IAP's? I'll pass. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The world vulkan? Posted via the Android Central App
  • No lol , he's talking about that API that will do nothing for android games. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • I play my games mainly on my PC or xbox Posted via the Android Central App
  • Vulkan affects those platforms too. Posted from my Nexus 6.
  • If it means improved graphics, my body is ready. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Seeing Matrox on that list -- sticks out like a sore thumb. Matrox haven't made a video card in over 10 years probably.
  • The last hit they had was the G400 Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Au contrair, they're alive and kicking, I buy them regularly at work:
  • The last time I heard this kind of hype over an API was when DX10 was about to hit. Everyone thought it would be revolutionary, but all we got was meh. The game developers have to really go all in, en masse, for this to prove the promise. I know it could be a big deal, but I just don't know that it will. Not that I care how it's implemented in Android - I just don't do mobile gaming anymore. I'd like to like to, but I don't like to. But give me this on my PC and I'll be a happy man. Posted via the Android Central App
  • DX10 looked pretty good but Vista and driver growing pains crapped on it. Also remember crysis was a DX10 Game. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • So, does this API require support on a hardware/software level? Or do we see gains as soon as it's implemented? AT&T Galaxy Note 3
  • With the current rage of iap I dont thinj it will really matter. Would be nice to see sum 360 and PS3 ports. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yep it's either that or I'm not interested. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • Maybe we'll finally get rid of Android lag... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Vulkan is also a lower-level API, meaning that it can take better advantage of the graphics processor for increased performance. Sadly, I can't find any suitable game on Android that showcases Vulkan well, since games like Clash of Clans are what everyone seems to only be playing these days.
  • It would take quite a long time before lots of games developed by Vulkan. But with the support of OpenGL ES still exists, Vulkan would provide another choice for game developers.
  • Let's see what happens with Android in 5 years, because that's probably how long it's going to take to really see the end result. Nexus 6
  • Higher quality games is great, but as Russell wrote a few days ago, people need to start paying for them, rather than expecting everything to be free, otherwise developers are going to ignore android and stick to iOS where people actually spend money. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I do wonder will this have any effect on the Shield line of products? Or AndroidTV which really isn't getting great support from Google. Also weary about game streaming due to ISP limitations come on Fiber. Posted via the Android Central App
  • That's right! Posted via the Android Central App
  • To those saying this is a waste (basically)..... Imo this is a which comes first...the chicken or the egg... As the technology increases so will the apps and games. Its not speculation. Its certainty. Just like how we started with cardboard and it was just a fun almost gimmick like experience with few ways to take advantage of it and now were in the middle of hotly contested debate with manufacturers over who can produce the best vr experience and as a result we're seeing more ways to use vr and more apps/games etc as time goes by. All these oems didn't get involved because they think its a short term gimmick because its not. Imo same for things like google glass. It'll come back when they feel the technology is ready...or maybe more affordable as well (1500 for glasses is ridiculous unless the frames are made of solid gold). Eventually (its pretty obvious to me) i think we're going to be able to get games available on PlayStation and xbox right on our android devices. Obviously input will be huge (we need native game controller support) but i think thats the future. I also expect android game developers to make console quality games exclusively on android. We already have a few that are pretty impressive for a phone or tablet game. Even the first dead trigger way back when was impressive considering you're playing on a phone or tablet instead of a PlayStation or xbox for its time)