Apr 14, 2020 - Technology

Scoop: Google readies its own chip for future Pixels, Chromebooks

Ina Fried, author of Login

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Google has made significant progress toward developing its own processor to power future versions of its Pixel smartphone as soon as next year — and eventually Chromebooks as well, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The move could help Google better compete with Apple, which designs its own chips. It would be a blow to Qualcomm, which supplies processors for many current high-end phones, including the Pixel.

Details:

  • The chip, code-named Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art 5-nanometer technology would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google's effort. Samsung has also manufactured Apple's iPhone chips, as well as its own Exynos processors.
  • In recent weeks, Google received its first working versions of the chip. However, the Google-designed chips aren't expected to be ready to power Pixel phones until next year. Subsequent versions of Google's chip could power Chromebooks, but that's likely to be even further off.
  • In addition to an 8-core ARM processor, Whitechapel will also include hardware optimized for Google's machine-learning technology. A portion of its silicon will also be dedicated to improving the performance and "always-on" capabilities of Google Assistant, the source said.

A Google representative declined to comment for this story.

The big picture: The main processor, though just one component in a smartphone, plays an outsize role — helping determine the speed, battery life and capabilities of the device.

  • Apple was early to design its own processor, but many companies have moved in that direction, both for the cost savings and to better control their own destiny.
  • Google has been gradually building its semiconductor capabilities. The Pixel already includes custom Google chips for machine learning and image processing tasks, and the company has hired a number of chip experts from rivals, including Apple and Intel.

Yes, but: There's a lot that goes into a phone processor, including core processing along with graphics, communications and other features. A shortcoming in any one area could force Google to stick with an existing chipmaker.

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