Android can run on just about everything—phones, watches, TVs, cars, microwaves, the Nintendo Switch—but one thing it really hasn’t been able to run on in a while is the iPhone. A third-party effort called Project Sandcastle is setting out to change that and build Android for the iPhone. The group already has beta builds out for the iPhone 7 and 7+.
You might recall, many years ago, that a Linux and Android on iPhone port was in the works for the original iPhone. This project is being brought to you by David Wang and Chris Wade, the same people who did that original port. Wang and Wade are the co-founders of Corellium, a company that is currently being sued by Apple for selling access to virtual machines that run iOS. The two say Corellium’s iPhone VM and debugging helped the project get up and running quickly.
Android ports often get a big development boost thanks to the shared hardware of the ARM ecosystem. Something like the Nintendo Switch normally wouldn’t have a scrap of pre-existing Android code to its name, but the Switch’s Nvidia Tegra SoC is also used in Android devices, and this shared hardware means there’s already a considerable codebase to start from. This is true of most devices, since Qualcomm, Nvidia, Mediatek, and others all sell their SoC to a wide consumer base—if you want to port Android to something, a good first step is to find another device with similar hardware that already runs Android and start with that code base. This strategy doesn’t work for the iPhone, though—it has an Apple SoC, which is only used in Apple devices, so there is truly no pre-existing Android code to work from. You’ve got to write drivers from scratch.
“The big challenge was that the Apple hardware is both undocumented and nonstandard,” Wang told Forbes. “Our team knows more about it than most outside Apple, but we still had to put in a considerable amount of work to build drivers for it.”
The builds are labeled “beta” right now, and the status page paints a picture of an extremely early release. The iPhone 7 build is the furthest along, and while the page says the CPU, storage, display, and touchscreen works, things like the GPU, camera, Bluetooth, audio, and cellular do not. There’s enough working to boot up, but don’t expect a lot of functionality. The status page goes from the iPhone 6 to the 11 Pro, but most builds don’t have storage access, and many are missing a working display. There is still plenty of work to do.
The project has only been underway for “less than a month,” according to the site. To have a functional beta out in that amount of time is impressive, so hopefully we’ll see more progress soon.