Achilles Heel of Android Audio: Latency

Last week I came across a post elaborating on a limitation that hampers pro-audio apps and accessories for Android devices

Android’s platform fragmentation is one of the most commonly quoted factors to explain its lack of high-end multimedia apps, and one of the reasons it’s seen to lag behind Apple’s iOS for professional film and music making.

Android fragmented

There are quite literally thousands of Android devices – Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC and many more, in fact Google Play lists over eight-and-a-half-thousand supported Android devices and models at the time of writing. These devices feature different hardware (camera, audio, processor) and run multiple versions of the Android and manufacturers’ software.

This is in stark contrast to the simple fact that Apple owns both the hardware and operating system software (and has tight control on the apps).

Software, meet Hardware

High-end apps need good access to a device’s underlying hardware in order to perform speedily and reliably. Audio and video processing is intensive stuff, and even a few milliseconds here or there can make a big difference, particularly when human senses or other devices are in concert.

The Android audio latency problem highlighted here appears to come about because of the number of software layers through which audio data must travel from input or generation to output, and has been measured to around 10 milliseconds for the round-trip, up to 35 ms when using an audio dongle.

This infographic from Superpowered explains the problem in more detail based upon analysis of an Google Nexus 9.

Interestingly, IK Multimedia – renowned for its pro audio accessories for mobile devices – is beginning to release some dedicated Android audio accessories now. I’m going to reach out to the IK Multimedia Team to find out what their take on this Android latency issue is – I’ll report back here if I hear any more.