Google Develops Own Processor For Pixel Smartphones

Alphabet’s Google is developing its own in-house processor to power its Pixel 6 range of smartphones, set for release later this year.

The announcement, made in a blog post by Rick Osterloh, senior VP of devices and services, means that Google will stop using Qualcomm’s technology, which has powered the Pixel smartphone portfolio ever since it first launched in 2016.

Google is not the only tech giant to opt to develop its own in-house processors. Apple for example last year announced it would utilise its own in-house processors in its Mac computers. Apple had been using Intel’s processors in its Mac computers since 2006, when it stopped using chips supplied by IBM.

Tensor SoC

Apple also uses its own-house designed processors for its iPhone and iPad devices, and has also acquired Intel’s smartphone modem business, in a deal valued at $1bn (£804m), in July 2019.

But Google’s move to develop its own smartphone chips should come as no surprise.

As far back as 2015, Google said it wanted develop its own processors for its Nexus smartphones and tablets.

Now in the blog post, Google’s Osterloh revealed that its in-house processor will be called Tensor and it will power the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones.

However Osterloh said the next Pixel phone, 5a, would still have a Qualcomm processor.

But it seems that Google’s patience with the current technology has reached its limit.

“AI is the future of our innovation work, but the problem is we’ve run into computing limitations that prevented us from fully pursuing our mission,” wrote Osterloh. “So we set about building a technology platform built for mobile that enabled us to bring our most innovative AI and machine learning (ML) to our Pixel users. We set out to make our own System on a Chip (SoC) to power Pixel 6. And now, years later, it’s almost here.”

“Tensor is our first custom-built SoC specifically for Pixel phones, and it will power the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro later this fall (Autumn),” wrote Osterloh, promising to reveal all the details at that stage.

Pixel 6 Features

Google had launched its Pixel 5 in October 2020, and in recognition of the harsh economic realities posed by the raging Coronavirus pandemic, the handsets prioritised features over performance, in an effort to deliver an affordable device for users.

But according to Osterloh the Pixel 6 phone “design that combines the same beautiful aesthetic across software and hardware with Android 12, to the new Tensor SoC, everything about using the Pixel is better.”

“We also upgraded the rear camera system,” he wrote. “The improved sensors and lenses are now too big to fit into the traditional square – so the new design gives the whole camera system a new home with the camera bar.”

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will also come with new materials and finishes, too, such as the Pro’s light polished aluminium frame, and the 6’s matte aluminium finish.

Why in-house?

Google’s Osterloh said the Tensor SoC was built for how people use their phones today and how people will use them in the future.

“As more and more features are powered by AI and ML it’s not simply about adding more computing resources, it’s about using that ML to unlock specific experiences for our Pixel users,” he wrote. “The team that designed our silicon wanted to make Pixel even more capable.”

“For example, with Tensor we thought about every piece of the chip and customized it to run Google’s computational photography models,” wrote Osterloh. “For users, this means entirely new features, plus improvements to existing ones.”

“Tensor enables us to make the Google phones we’ve always envisioned – phones that keep getting better, while tapping the most powerful parts of Google, all in a highly personalised experience,” wrote Osterloh. “And with Tensor’s new security core and Titan M2, Pixel 6 will have the most layers of hardware security in any phone.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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