Google may ditch Qualcomm and use its own chipsets in Pixel phones in 2021

Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review
Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google is said to have made "significant progress" in developing its own chipset.
  • The chipset is codenamed Whitechapel, and is set to power Pixel phones as early as next year.
  • Google is said to be teaming up with Samsung over the manufacture of the chipset on the foundry's 5nm node.

Google is no stranger to using custom silicon on its Pixel phones. The search giant introduced the Pixel Visual Core image processor in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 series, and on the Pixel 4 it unveiled a Neural Core that leveraged machine learning.

Google has been linked with making custom chipsets to power its phones for a while now, and a new report from Axios suggests it made "significant progress" in developing its own chipset. The publication says Google may use its in-house solution to power Pixel phones as early as 2021, and that these designs could even end up on Chromebooks.

Axios says Google developed the chipset — which is codenamed Whitechapel — in partnership with Samsung, and the custom design is set to be manufactured on Samsung LSI's 5nm manufacturing node. For context, this year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset is built on a 7nm node, and a shrink to the 5nm node is likely for next year's designs.

The Whitechapel chipset is said to offer eight ARM cores and include features designed for Google's machine-learning technology. It is estimated that the chipset will also include custom silicon designed to improve the performance of "always-on" capabilities of Google Assistant. Qualcomm offers a similar feature on its Snapdragon chipset, so it makes sense for Google to include a custom co-processor to do the same.

Google going the custom route is a huge deal for the brand. Thus far, only Apple has managed to achieve vertical integration on its phones, and all Android device makers — including Google — had to use either Qualcomm designs or come up with in-house solutions, like Samsung with its Exynos series and Huawei with Kirin. While Samsung and Huawei use their own chipsets, they have to rely on Google for the software, and that's why it is interesting to see Google design its own chipsets.

Google has the potential to integrate hardware and software seamlessly by designing its own chipset, and the company has lured several chip designers away from Apple and Intel over the last two years. So it does look likely that Google is invested in its own silicon, and the fact that the chipset may launch as early as next year makes things very exciting for the 2021 Pixel series.

Google Pixel 3a XL

Google Pixel 3a XL

With robust hardware and a fantastic camera, the Pixel 3a XL continues to be a great phone in 2020. It is one of the first phones to receive software updates, and the value on offer is incredible.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

  • I've wondered for a while if/when this would come to pass. There certainly don't seem to have been any hiccups generated from their initial efforts with their custom chips from the 2nd-4th generation Pixels, but, honestly, I —and I suspect many others — will be a bit wary of buying into a first generation 'heart' of a phone. There's an enormous amount of potential upside. Google could finally get out from under Qualcomm's thumb in terms of limitations of their ability to extend support for the chip beyond a few years based on how long Qualcomm chooses to support it, meaning Google would have the option to match or exceed Apple's support timeline. Obviously they can also tailor the chip to optimize it for what they feel is important. And that brings us to a couple of the potential downsides (other than the obvious 1st gen issue). Google optimizing it for what they feel people want might score well, but given their track record of re-evaluating their perception very, very frequently, what is the optimal chip might not be a short time later. Also, as what will still be an extreme minority shareholder of the mobile phone hardware market, any praise for benefits of their silicon over Qualcomm's will be buried under an avalanche of negativity over any relative deficiencies. Either way, it'll be an interesting experiment, and fun (and hopefully not too painful) to watch.
  • Good. Maybe then they can update their devices as long as apple does and not be at the mercy of qualcomm for updates. 
  • I'm pretty sure that's what the first commenter said!
  • With google philosophy, they will go with a low end chip set and try to make it up with software optimizations
  • Takes years to get the chip business right. Just look at Kirin, and even something as old as exynos is floundering in performance to this day.