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A Pixel 6 with a Google chip is a bold move that we all want to see

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

The news that Google could be putting its own chip inside the Pixel 6 is really cool, especially for consumers and fans of the Pixel phones. It's a risky move — even for a company the size of Google — but one we've expected to happen eventually. Even if you're not a Pixel phone fan and use any of the other best Android phones, it's interesting as all get out.

It's also going to be quite the balancing act between risk and reward, one that could affect the Android ecosystem as a whole. Building a microprocessor isn't a new idea for Google; we've seen the company build its own chips like the Pixel Visual Core and the Neural Core with a lot of success. Both pieces of silicon did exactly what Google wanted and even spurred the competition to match their capabilities. Google no longer needs to use them thanks to Qualcomm's improved image signal processing.

Google also designs ARM chips for its servers and machine learning equipment, so the company is no stranger to chip design. But this time, things are very different, and Google is making a bit of a leap of faith here. Dropping Qualcomm in favor of its own chips isn't something to take lightly. We reached out to Ashel Sag, Senior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, and he sums it up quite well:

I think Google has to be very careful with going down this path because while I believe it is possible that Google can build a competent SoC, I do believe that the cost of doing this would need to be amortized across many more devices than what Google is currently selling through with the Pixel to make it a worthwhile exercise. Additionally, Google's probably going to have to use someone else's 5G modem, and considering that Google is very closely tied to Verizon, it will likely still be a Qualcomm modem, possibly an x60 or x55. However, if Google wants to be forward-thinking, it should be an x60 or x65. That said, I am just not confident that this project will have much longevity if Google doesn't find a way to increase the size of its smartphone business to where Samsung, Apple, and Huawei are, which is what drives their ability to build custom chips.

Boom goes the dynamite. That's the entire problem in a nutshell — Google will have to sell enough products with its chip inside to make it worthwhile, and even then, it has to lean on its hardware partners if it wants the chip to be any good. We all know what happens when Google loses too much money on a thing — it rides off into the sunset.

Pixelbook and Pixel Phone

Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Not everything about Google building a chip is bad, though, and even if the company loses money on the endeavor, it could still be worthwhile. Having control over the chip's functionality at every level means a lot, and Google is the type of company that could build software that's "tuned" to run on it. A Google chip could be better at the things we want the Pixel to excel at: battery life, camera, and performance. That's not even mentioning that Google could support its own hardware, well, forever if it wanted to. Imagine your Pixel 6 getting five or more years of updates. That alone makes building a Google chip worthwhile in my book.

Google sells more hardware than just a Pixel phone.

I don't fully agree with Sag's analysis, though, because he isn't factoring in the rest of Google's hardware. Things like a Nest Hub or a Nest Wifi setup use an ARM chip supplied by another company. The next Pixelbook could do the same (please!). These products don't need a chip with the same capabilities as smartphones, but there's no reason Google couldn't use them to save money. Yes, at an individual level, it would cost more to drop a mobile-focused chip into the SoC of something like a Nest Hub, but building one chip to put in everything Google saves money.

Nest Hub 2nd Gen Review

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

Google doesn't need to sell as many phones as Samsung (who is rumored to be manufacturing said chip) or Apple; it just needs to sell enough devices that use the chip to reach an acceptable cost projection. If doing so saves time or makes writing software for new features easier, Google will consider that a win. As long as the bottom line doesn't drop too far once all is said and done, that is. The folks who count the money always have the final say.

Google can't go head to head with Qualcomm here, and it's not trying to.

In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing Google finally get its stuff together and make a Pixel with its own chip inside. I think it will make everything about a Pixel — especially the battery life — better. It could also address things like early adopter bugs that have always plagued Google's devices because finding and fixing them will be easier when you know everything about the silicon.

Can Google go head to head with Qualcomm or even a company like MediaTek when it comes to being a chipmaker? Nope. I don't even think it's trying something so grand. But it can make existing products better and make designing new products easier. Lord knows Google needs all the help it can get in both departments, and maybe this chip will be that help. My fingers are crossed and my credit card is ready.

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.

26 Comments
  • Ashel Sag nailed it. Great read, Jerry.
  • With Samsung behind them this could be very interesting, I hope they pull it off? I look forward to the pixel6!
  • I expect this to be a train wreck. And what will that trains cargo be? Flaming dumpsters.
  • That should be googles new logo a dumpster fire
  • The big picture here is make your own soc and stick it in everything you make. Google Nest products, wearables, and etc. Can even see them selling them to car stereo and car manufacturers for more android auto type stuff. Chromebooks would become lit as well.
  • If the 6 turns out to be another dud, Google should hang it up and quit making phones.
  • I have yet to see anyone using a pixel phone. It’s Samsung or Apple.
  • Guess Motorola (Lenovo), OnePlus, Huawei, Xiaomi, should just close up shop.
  • High-end mobile processors cost a fair amount to physically make. It would be cheaper for Google to buy an existing budget low-end chip for embedded purposes than to buy enough high-end wafers from Samsung (or TSMC). Chromebooks would be a good target, though. But Ashel's not commenting on a massive possible market: Google's server fleet. Amazon have their own ARM-based Graviton processors, which they say are considerably more cost-effective than standard x86 processors. Google must have considered doing something similar. There isn't much in common between a high-end server CPU and a phone SoC apart from the processor cores, but what if Google had been trying to create their own cores? If they did that, they'd need an ARM architectural license, and once they had the design (paid for by the server fleet), they could put it onto a phone SoC and not have to pay the per-unit license fees for an existing high-end ARM core¹. That could be the cost saving they're looking for, which would mean the crossover point where it's cheaper to make your own rather than buy would be quite a bit lower. (Note: a high-end ARM server would have at least 64 cores. Simple mathematics means that the cores have to be fairly similar in power consumption and size to a phone core, which is why there's a lot of interest around ARM server chips right now). Also: if I ran Google, and I was planning an in-house ARM core, I'd want to get at least one round of experience where Google made their own chips with existing cores before adding the new in-house design. There are enough potential problems with a first-generation in-house chip without adding a first-generation in-house core to the mix. So I wouldn't expect the Google core in the first generation of Google chips. ¹ An ARM architectural license is expensive, and licensees still have to pay per-unit licence fees, but the per-unit fees are a lot lower than the fees for an ARM A7x design.
  • Google could support a Qualcomm chip with 5 years of updates too if they wanted. The fact that it is their own chip does not mean they are more able to keep giving it software updates. The manufacturer of the chip does not stop them from updating the software.
  • Not quite the case. Qualcomm devices come with BLOB firmware layers. If vulnerabilities or future needs render these obsolete, and Qualcomm won't update the firmware because they want to sell newer devices which have higher margins, that determines EOL. Making their own gives Google firmware control.
    It need not be that expensive. Samsung bundling an Exynos with some Google add-ons is a lot less problematic than designing your own Arm from scratch.
  • Google will try this for a year or two and then abandon it like everything else they do. 
  • The only bold move Google could make is to get out of the smartphone business. Their phones are junks!! The declining sales numbers prove it.
  • Google can make an unicorn but people will still find ways to hate on them. So I don't think it'll be any different. They will as usual make a great phone but being Google they will be picked apart as usual. Can't wait for the pixel 6, Google always makes great phones and Pixel 6 with Google in house chip should be fun.
  • Google deserves to hate because they suck at hardware, and their software is bland, boring and featureless and has to resort to stealing the best ideas from the true innovators that's the ones really pushing Android forward, Samsung who is still the OEM to beat in software, features and innovation. Google should just stick to mid range, it's their level. Or even better, Google should be bold and exit the smartphone business like even LG had the sense to do.
  • Give me bland and boring software over wading through bloat ANYTIME. Featureless? Google's feature drops have been interesting. Like the OP said, don't understand the hate on Google and wishing them out the phone business. Just don't buy them and let people who do buy them. Life is too short for hate.
  • People hate Pixels because the software is boring, featureless and lifeless, until I tried Samsung stock Android was all I cared about, but not anymore, especially with all the hardware issues that comes with a Pixel, and the one advantage Google had in fast updates, particularly security updates, Samsung smashes that and then some, along with having superior software and hardware with features that are genuinely useful that pushes Android forward. So it's Samsung that's pushing Android forward not Google.
  • Software don't come as bland and boring as iOS, and Android has more features and customisation. I use both for work/leisure respectively. But millions of iOS users don't care about 'exciting' software, just software that works. Why I prefer Pixel's software over Samsung, which muddies the waters with bloat and both Samsung and Google's versions of things.
  • IOS is definitely worse than a Pixel for it being restrictive and boring with a lack of customisation and features, I have an iPhone 11 Pro Max that is barely used since I got my S20 FE 5G and won't be buying another iPhone again, it's Samsung that's driving Android forward with innovation like the foldable phones and if you have Samsung a chance you can disable the Samsung apps you don't want, in fact I'd say Samsung Internet is better than Chrome and is far more optimised than the battery and memory hog that is Chrome, I'm glad I switched to Samsung Internet.
  • A Pixel 6 with a Google chip is still a fail, especially if the chip in question is Exynos, which has proved to be inferior to Qualcomm's Snapdragon.
  • If Google can optimise a lowly Snapdragon 670 so well in my Pixel 3a XL, and it's still running well nearly 2 years on, just imagine what it can do with its own chip. I'm looking forward to this.
  • Maybe they should focus on stop using their customers for platform beta testing.
  • While this could be interesting, I will certainly not be a first generation tester in this. If this happens... IF... And it proves to be stable and performant, I'll consider the chip in the future. But I hate to pay to be a beta tester.
  • Google need to offer a real flagship phone to equal a Samsung or I phone, they have
    the 4a and 5 but mid range and lower price than the Pixel 4 ones which I am running with no problems and battery is ok, it needs a pixel 6 pro with high end components good battery and five years updates to match Apple I phone and price will be high but so is competition, if the pixel 6 is a follow on to the 4a/5 and there is no real flagship then time to leave pixel phones.
  • Equal to Samsung, Apple is nowhere near Samsung and Pixels are just iPhones running Android, boring and bland and they deserve the hate they get.
  • This doesn't make sense to me at all. Android's success relies on it being implementable by the widest possible array of OEMs. The Pixel serves Google well by just existing and keeping other handset makers from falling asleep. But I don't see any value for Google to optimize Android for their own chips. Google's business plan for Android isn't anything like Apple's business plan for iOS.