Smartphones have become as powerful as lower-end PCs but there are definitely some things they still can’t do. Heavy graphics, especially for games and visualization, is one of those but the entire graphics ecosystem on mobile is considerably different from their desktop counterparts. Graphics drivers, for example, are often at the mercy of vendor firmware updates, which is why ARM is now proudly announcing a new system that would allow drivers to be updated just like one would update an app.
Drivers are the way an operating system like Android talk to hardware like touch controllers or, in this case, graphics processing units or GPUs. Most of the time, drivers for hardware are delivered via firmware updates that have to go through the long process of testing and certification. Great for a phone’s stability but not for mobile gaming that often needs a faster pace of bug fixes for GPU bugs and issues.
ARM is now announcing that future Mali GPUs will have drivers that can be updated as soon as those patches are available. Instead of coursing it through firmware OTA updates, these drivers can actually be pushed via Google Play Store instead in order to reach users more quickly.
This actually isn’t a completely novel capability. Qualcomm announced its own upgradable Adreno GPU drivers that came with the Snapdragon 865 and 765 mobile platforms last year. Few, however, have been able to take advantage of that capability other than Xiaomi.
ARM’s announcement will cover chips that use its Mali GPUs, including those from Samsung Exynos or MediaTek Helio and Dimensity processors, though it doesn’t name which GPUs exactly will get that feature. The feature may sound obscure for end users but it could help raise the profile of mobile gaming, especially on Android.