Google is reportedly prepping its own chips for use in future Pixel phones and potentially Chromebooks too.
According to a scoop from Axios, Google’s chip was designed in cooperation with Samsung. Codenamed ‘Whitechapel,’ the chip relies on Samsung’s 5-nanometre process a source familiar with Google’s work told Axios. Samsung manufactures its own Exynos systems on a chip (SoCs) as well as some chips for Apple. That includes earlier A-series chips (more recent ones like the A13 Bionic were made by TSMC) as well as chips found in the Apple Watch.
Further, Google reportedly received the first working versions of the Samsung-made chip in recent weeks. But don’t expect these new chips to be in Pixel phones until next year.
Plus, the chips could come to Chromebooks in the future, but that is much further off.
The Whitechapel SoC will reportedly include an eight-core ARM processor along with hardware optimized for Google’s machine-learning technology. Additionally, Axios says that some of the SoC’s silicon will help improve the performance and ‘always-on’ capabilities of Google Assistant.
The shift to custom-made chips could mean a major blow to Qualcomm, which currently makes a variety of SoCs under the Snapdragon brand. Those chips power the majority of Android flagship phones.
Further, Qualcomm unveiled a new line of ‘compute’ chips late last year. These chips will take on Intel in the laptop market, especially in ultra-portable thin-and-light PCs and 2-in-1s, such as Chromebooks. However, if Google goes custom, it could mean more competition for Qualcomm’s fledgling compute platform and another potential threat for Intel.
Google isn’t the only manufacturer going custom
Of course, this all assumes that Google’s custom designs are able to take on the Snapdragon line in the first place. The SoC is just one of many components in a smartphone, but it plays a critical role in almost everything from speed to battery life. In other words, if Google’s custom efforts fall short of Snapdragon chips in any of the key metrics, such as CPU performance or graphics, it could degrade the experience across the board.
However, Apple also designs its own chips for use in the iPhone, iPad and perhaps Mac computers in the future. By designing its own chips, Apple ensures control over every aspect of the device and can fine-tune software for improved performance. Plus, there are cost savings involved since Apple doesn’t have to buy chips from other companies.
Likewise, custom silicon already benefits some functions in Google’s Pixel line. Pixel phones include custom chips for machine learning and image processing. The company also hired chip experts from competitors like Apple. Unfortunately, success with specific custom silicon won’t necessarily equate to success with a custom SoC.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen how Google implements the custom chips, if it chooses to do so at all. The implementation could be different from what we expect. Further, it could lead to better performance in Pixel phones, or perhaps worse performance. Finally, going custom likely won’t remove Qualcomm from future Pixel phones entirely. The company also makes smartphone modems and its Snapdragon X55 and upcoming X60 platform will be critical in ramping up 5G adoption.