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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
Jerry Hildenbrand

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.

23 Comments
  • This could be a golden opportunity for Google with the Qualcom shortage? With Samung backing up Google this could be something great in the making. I hope they both succeed with this endeavor!
  • Eh even making their own chips doesn't make them immune to the shortage, just look at apple https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/8/22373281/chip-shortage-apple-macbook-i...
  • Exactly. They're still going to be competing with everyone else for the same limited fabs.
  • The issue isn't with Qualcomm itself, though. It's with fab allocations as a whole. Nvidia's GPU's, CPUs AND GPUs for AMD (including for consoles), and even automakers are having issues. The problem is availability of silicon, not Snapdragons. Even if Google had its own chip, they wouldn't have a fab producing them, meaning they'd be hurt by the same supply constraints plaguing TSMC's 7nm production and Samsung's 8nm. Unless fab space opens up, or other fabs are opened to increase silicon supply, Google would still struggle to get chips into devices.
  • Google phones will always be inferior and garbage next to the best Android phones and the current best and has been for years is Samsung and no inferior in-house SoC from Google will change that, Google should just give up on smartphones as they've shown their not up to the task.
  • Thank you for your positive input and if you actually had a 5 or 4a 5g you'd see they are fantastic phones. Get back to making love to your little iPhone.
  • Haven't you heard? Im team Samsung, I can't stand iPhone anymore, I'm rocking the S20 FE 5G, brilliant phone with the best software in One UI, so don't make assumptions, Pixel fanboy.
  • I remember when you were the Pixel fanboy. Then an Apple fanboy and now a Samsung fanboy. Gives me whiplash just trying to keep up.
  • 😂
    I remember that like it was yesterday.
  • Yeah I'm a Samsung fanboy, I love my S20 FE 5G, its such a brilliant phone for the price and I got a free pair of Galaxy Buds Live which are great too, except for the accidental touches which I've turned off touch controls. I'm team Samsung and am getting a Galaxy Tab S7 plus tomorrow,
  • Yea, you probably do more than just "rock it."
  • I think beno will be on Sammy for a while, Google phones are meh, and iPhones are what they are...locked down versions of what someone thinks a phone should operate like.
  • Finally someone understands that I'm really happy with Samsung and I'm getting a Galaxy Tab S7 plus tomorrow, so yeah I'll be sticking with Samsung, who've blown me away with their software and the amazing features and customisation of One UI, simply fantastic. And yeah Pixels are absolutely meh.
  • not everyone needs or wants the best let alone getting ripped off and wasting $$ on a device. I'd even venture to say most folks who buy flagships wasting all that money don't even require the specs for their actual daily use. And to say Google devices are inferior or garbage is an outright hogwash statement in of itself. Sure the Pixel 5 is a bit over priced but its a fabulous device along with the 4a5G both of which I own.
  • Beno, you are a fool who wastes money jumping from phone to phone.... LOL, back in my day, we had the same landline for years growing up... But now phone companies got people like you spending thousands every year or two on devices... 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🤣🤣🤣🤣
  • I may be missing something, but to me the headline is illogical. If there is a global chip shortage, wouldn't this be the worst possible time to introduce new designs or manufacturing variations on existing chips? Given that Google would outsource production to an outside chip fab, I'd think the best way for those producers to meet demand for Google and their other customers would be to maximize yields on existing mass market chips and designs (e.g. Qualcomm ones).
  • Chip design ownership isn't the problem. The problem is there are now only 2 viable chip foundry (read: manufacturing) companies in the entire world: Samsung & TSMC. Even if Google introduces their own design, unless they own a foundry they'll have to join the same line AMD, Qualcomm, etc. are in. It's the same story with many other essential electronics components that have boiled down to 1 or 2 companies and/or locations that either make them most efficiently or make the best ones.
  • They can't even get a coherent messaging or music platform together, how are they going to deal with this?
  • Always a kind word from BENO? When he was sporting a pixel they were the best. Then 🍎, the 5yr updates. Now, a newly discovered Samsung knight, he jumps trains like underpants, yikes!
  • There was a foray into Apple for awhile. Makes me dizzy just watching.
  • What real world benefit is there for Google to "own" their own chipset? Will their updates be any faster, or more bug free? I doubt it. The only benefit I can see for them is bragging rights like Apple has, and to lock more people into the Google ecosystem...not the Android ecosystem, but the Google ecosystem...big difference. It already exists to a degree in that Pixel devices receive features in certain apps that no other phone does even though it is using the exact same app...the dialer comes to mind. I prefer Android over Apple for sure...but Google sucks!
  • Google isn't building its own manufacturing plant to make their chips. They will wait in line with everyone else regardless of whether they are using their own chips or not.
  • Uh this writer has no clue how semi conductor manufacturing works... The quality of online writing is just so poor these days.