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Android gets USB Audio

Google Android to support class-compliant USB audio interfaces

When it comes to audio performance, Android mobile devices have been a few steps behind their Apple counterparts. Android's audio engine wasn't initially optimised and latency figures were markedly higher than for iOS. Certain companies like Sonoma Wire Works have written software or worked around the limitations of the OS so you can now do audio based things like play synths, use DJ tools etc. without crippling latency. That's the first hurdle cleared. The second, and more vital limitation with Android, especially for recording, was its inability to play nicely with third-party audio interfaces, which you'd need to get higher quality audio in and out of the device.

There are loads of these accessories available that increase the number and quality of your audio inputs and outputs. Take, for instance, something like the RME Fireface UCX. This is a serious piece of audio hardware that can operate in class-compliant mode. In this mode, no extra drivers are required. A lot of companies offer this functionality so that mobile recording and editing is possible from a tablet. But, up until now, Apple users have been having all the fun; Android OS hasn't had any way of using class-compliant devices because the routines  hadn’t been built into the OS at a level that allowed the functionality to exist.

Only 17 hours ago, this changed. 

Google's Android Open Source Project released a patch for issue 24614: 'Add support for USB Audio'. This functionality has been requested by thousands of Android users and in September 2013, a team was assigned to add the functionality. This morning, the development work was released to the main code base. 

This code should start appearing in developer builds and, with any luck, should soon be a part of the main codebase releases. There is no timescale on this just yet. It could be an incremental update, it might come along with the planned October release of Android L, or it might not appear until the version after. 

However, this is the clearest sign yet that the problem is close to being fixed, and when it is, the playing field will be levelled. Musicians with Android devices can finally start playing with all the mobile accessories that Apple users have been enjoying for the past few years.

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