The global chip shortage means Google has to get its own chip in phones as soon as possible

Google Pixel 4a 5G
Google Pixel 4a 5G (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

The Pixel 5a is yet another victim of the global shortage of Qualcomm's 765 chips. Whether it gets canceled, gets delayed, or has a very limited release to just a few countries, almost everyone who had their heart set on buying one will have to buy another one of the best budget phones like the Pixel 4a 5G instead.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing for consumers. The Pixel 5a was supposedly being built on the same chipset as the Pixel 4a 5G, which has seen its share of sales and price reductions. If you really wanted a Pixel 5a, you can get essentially the same phone and save a few dollars. But yeah, I wanted to see a new Pixel, too. Oh well, things like this happen.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 765

Source: Qualcomm (Image credit: Source: Qualcomm)

For Google, things are a little different. On the money side, Google shouldn't be affected very much. It doesn't sell a lot of phones in the first place, and as long as it can keep the Pixel 4a 5G available — it uses the same chip that the Pixel 5a is rumored to use — consumers can still get the budget phone they want, just with a different name on the back. The money funnels into Google's pile of wealth through a different device.

Qualcomm has orders to fill, and companies like Samsung and Xiaomi come first.

Forget about money and profits for a moment, though; this spells out what Google has to do — get the plans for building its own chip into high gear before the Pixel 6 launches. I had my doubts that Google would put its own chip inside any device in 2021 and would take its sweet time with the thing we all want to see, but now things are different.

Qualcomm is just unable to keep up with the demand for its powerful mid-range chips. We can thank COVID-19 a little bit, of course, but I think a bigger part is that many companies want to buy a cheap phone chip that can pull its weight, and the Snapdragon 765 series is that chip. Qualcomm just can't make the fabrication process run any faster because it doesn't fabricate its own chips. Companies like Xiaomi have huge contracts to get plenty of the chips, so a small company like Google's hardware division just doesn't stand a chance to get them in quantity. Qualcomm has to fill these orders first.

That leaves a few options for the Pixel 6: Using a MediaTek chip is one, and that wouldn't be a terrible idea. Google has worked with MediaTek to improve chip performance in Android Go devices, and that partnership worked out well even though MediaTek-powered phones didn't exactly fly off the shelves.

Google has a few options for the Pixel 6, and the best one is to use its own chip.

Using a Samsung chip is another good option, but Samsung has slowed things down while it figures out how to improve its Exynos line of chips, which power plenty of other things besides smartphones. Samsung just wouldn't be able to provide enough Exynos chips for a phone launch, even one that isn't going to sell 50 million units.

Google could spend the money and order a huge number of the chips like Chinese OEMs are doing, but it knows it will never be able to make that money back unless it finds a way to sell tens of millions of Pixel phones. That's just not going to happen.

The final and best option is to get Samsung (and/or TSMC) to start building Google-designed chips as soon as possible. The component shortage is still a thing — the factories that make things like diodes and transistors were shut down for months — but for a phone like a Pixel 6, enough chips could be cranked out for an initial launch if Google got on the ball right away.

Google Pixel 5 Review

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Using its own chips is a big deal for Google and one they have been planning for years, I'm sure. I'm also pretty sure that the company wasn't planning on moving very quickly with the idea because something like using a brand new chip takes plenty of testing and QA after the first one rolls off the fabrication line. You can't just throw something like this out there and "fix it later" like Google loves to do so often.

A brand new chip requires a lot of testing, but I'm sure that has already started.

Whether the Pixel 5a is canceled or just won't be available for most of the world, Google needs to do something. I think cranking up the production of its own custom chip design and getting them built is the right move, even if it means the Pixel 6 is delayed or has a similar limited release.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.