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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.

Go deeper

Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategy

Biden signs executive orders on Jan. 21. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday signed a slew of executive orders to address the coronavirus pandemic, including an interstate face mask mandate and an order to renew supplies of PPE, testing materials and vaccines through the Defense Production Act.

Why it matters: The stakes are highest for Biden’s vaccination effort. Several states cannot keep up with demand.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.