Google's chip manufacturing plans: The winners and the losers
Image: Jack Wallen
At the moment, Google has no say in what chips OEMs use in devices. To that end, the Android experience can be spotty in places. For instance, I have Bluetooth peripherals that will pair with some devices and not with others… even when said devices are running the same iteration of Android. That, my friends, is due to a lack of consistency in chips used.
But it’s not just about properly supporting the current feature set; Google wants to seriously push the limits of what smartphones are capable of managing. For example, Google wants to push augmented reality and virtual reality. Google hopes to work on chips that are capable of scanning the environment and pushing images to Google’s cloud-based systems so the images can be analyzed. Google is also looking into creating image processors that can significantly reduce the delay between photos.
In the end, what Google wants is to be able to better control the improvement and evolution of Android.
To some, this may seem like a grab at a piece of the old Apple pie. After all, if anyone knows something about controlling an ecosystem, it’s Apple. But does Google really want to go down this path? Consider this: Google would be new to chip manufacturing; Samsung, on the other hand is not. Samsung recently made massive improvements in the chips that wound up in the Galaxy 6. Could Google come out of the starting gate and improve on what Samsung has achieved?
Believe it or not, I hesitate answering that in the negative. Why? Because if any company could improve on the current crop of chips — when coming out of the starting gate — it’s Google.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my trepidations with this. First and foremost, we already have one company with control issues; do we really need another? Second, what will this move do to a smaller company that creates brilliant and inexpensive unlocked Android smartphones? If Google were to insist on OEMs using their Android-certified chips (that’s not a thing… yet), will the likes of OnePlus, Huawei, Xiaomi, Alcatel, and Nextbit be able to function in that landscape? Or will Google be forcing their own chips down the throats of the little guy, which could have the effect of seriously hurting the competition and, thusly, innovation)?
Why is this even being considered?
It’s simple. Despite having massive innovation and widespread market share in its corner, even the most recent flagship Android phones perform up to 5x slower than the latest iPhone (and only slightly slower than the older iPhone 5). I believe this is the precise reason why Google is considering adding chipset manufacturing to its core.
Even with Android optimized beyond belief, it is still at the mercy of the chips used in devices. If those chips aren’t perfectly optimized to be used with the Android platform, the devices will take a performance hit.
Google wants more.
My guess is…
I predict Google will begin this effort by rolling out its own chipsets in the Nexus line of devices. When these Android-specific chips greatly improve the performance of Android (and there’s little reason to doubt they will), Google will offer the chips to other manufacturers. And maybe, just maybe, in the future, Google will demand OEMs use the optimized chips in their Android-powered devices.
And before you go there, no… Google doesn’t make money selling phones. However, it is in Google’s best interest that its platform outperform the competition. Period. Google cannot stand by while the iPhone continues to best them in the realm of performance. The iPhone will never come close to the flexibility of Android, but every flagship device must perform with blazing speed — this is the world in which we live. The only way Google can permanently tip the performance scales back into its favor might be to manufacture chips specific to the Android platform.
Some will balk at this idea. Some will say Google is only trying to wrestle free the last bit of control OEMs have. In the end, this is about evolving the Android ecosystem into the realms of blazing performance. If that requires in-house chip design, so be it.
My only request for Google is: consider open sourcing the specs for your chip design so smaller manufacturers can get on board without having to go out of business.
What’s your take?
Why do you think Google is diving into chip manufacturing? Will it be a major win for Android and Android users? Why or why not? Let us know in the discussion.