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Why Android Needs a Simulator More than an Emulator

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Why Android Needs a Simulator More than an Emulator

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People tend not to be too enthusiastic about Android's default emulator. And while there have been some improvements and solutions - Genymotion and HAXM, for example - they're not perfect, at least according to Jake Wharton (creator of Butter Knife, among other things) in this recent post. He sums up the stakes of Android's tools issue very succinctly:

Developers are the top of the funnel for Android’s continued success. Without quality development tools there are no quality apps, without quality apps there are no quality users, and without quality users the developers will flee.

The problem, Wharton argues, is that all of these emulator alternatives and improvements are still basically doing the same thing: emulating. What Android developers need, Wharton says, is a simulator - something iOS developers have had for some time already. This is how he defines it:

A simulator is a shim that sits between the Android operating system runtime and the computer’s running operating system. It bridges the two into a single unit which behaves closely to how a real device or full emulator would at a fraction of the overhead.

Use of a simulator would cut out a lot of extra configuration, performance overhead, and need for JVM-based testing solutions, Wharton says. When it comes to day-to-day development, a simulator would smooth out the development process and raise productivity, and hopefully app quality as well.

Wharton does point to a couple of existing Android simulators, but none are currently full-fledged solutions to the problems he's describing. On top of that, there are a number of issues (which Wharton explores in detail) that might make a move toward simulators somewhat challenging. 

Whether you're interested in simulators or perfectly happy with your emulator as it is, Wharton's post is worth a read. It gives an interesting overview of the current state of Android emulators and the reasons for the dissatisfaction so many feel, as well as the pros and cons of a viable solution.

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