Google is taking a page out of Apple’s playbook for its next flagship phone. Rather than using an off-the-shelf processor from Qualcomm or MediaTek, the Google Pixel 6 will be the first smartphone to ship with a Google-designed processor.
Now Nikkei Asia reports that Google doesn’t plan to stop at smartphone chips: the company is allegedly working on chips for Chromebooks as well, and they could arrive as soon as next year.
There aren’t many details about Google’s upcoming laptop processors, aside from the fact that they’re expected to be based on ARM architecture. But moving into the laptop/Chromebook chip space would be a logical next step for the company that develops two of the world’s most widely used operating systems: Android for smartphones and Chrome OS for laptops and (a few) desktops.
Google has actually been making its own custom processors since 2016, but up until recently those Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) chips were designed to allow cloud data centers to handle complex artificial intelligence operations.
The Pixel 6 will be the first consumer-oriented device to ship with a Google Tensor processor, which the company designed in collaboration with Samsung (the CPU is actually expected to be similar to recent Samsung Exynos processors, while Google’s special sauce will come in the form of hardware-accelerated AI features).
But according to Nikkei, Google is already working on next-gen smartphone processors as well as laptop chips.
Making its own processors theoretically puts Google in competition with Qualcomm and MediaTek in the smartphone market and Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, and MediaTek in the Chromebook space. But it’s likely that Google’s chips will only be used in first-party Pixel and Pixelbook-branded devices, which tend to have a pretty small market share at this point, so it’s unclear to what degree Google’s moves will ruffle any feathers.
That said, if Google manages to achieve better integration of hardware and software by developing its own chips, it could help the company pick up additional market share. It’s a strategy that has long paid off for Apple, which has been using its own processor designs since 2010.
Nikkei reports that Google shipped 7 million Pixel phones in 2019, which was the most the company had sold to date. But Google reportedly anticipates selling even more phones moving forward with impending launch of the Pixel 6 (as well as the just-released Pixel 5a, which has a Qualcomm processor, but which has also received positive reviews as a mid-range phone that punches above its weight class).