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Google lightly treads new waters leading to Android chip

Posted: 10 Nov 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google? Android? chipset? application processor? design?

Recently, rumours are going around that Google is planning to create its own Android chips. The Information, quoting unnamed sources, revealed that the company held discussions with silicon vendors about co-developing chip designs, including a phone's main processor, which would "enable new features Google hopes to implement within Android software in the next few years."

EE Times hasn't been able to confirm this report. Nor have several industry analysts to whom we reached out.

However, the very idea, Google ambitions to design chips optimised for future advancements in the Android OS, is making waves in the industry. Market watchers' opinions are split as to whether Google's strategy, to essentially follow Apple's footsteps in chip design, will prove effective for the Android community.

Three points are at issue: 1) Will having its own chips help Google's Android community catch up with and possibly outperform Apple's iPhone universe?; 2) Can Google's Android chips stop Android fragmentation?; and 3) Will it be application processors for Android phones or is there something else Google is looking for?

Apple A9 processor

Apple A9 processor

Jim McGregor, founder and a principal analyst at TIRIAS Research, said, "Some of these rumours [on Google's plan on chip designs] first surfaced a few weeks ago with some job postings by Google for multimedia chip designers."

Google responded to such speculations by "saying that they are not looking to make their own chips, but they need the expertise to communicate their requirements to their silicon partners." He added that Google made that comment in response to the Pixel C, a new Android tablet Google's team recently unveiled.

Google's chip design plan didn't come as a surprise to Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group Inc. Google has been "trying to drive the Android hardware platform in various ways," he explained. Such examples include: designing the Nexus phones and tablets, and buying (but later selling) Motorola Mobility. "Google has also designed its own chips for its data centres, so it has chip-design experience," Gwennap added.

But "what surprises me," he said, is that "Google thinks it can catch up to Apple through chip design."

Gwenapp doesn't believe that Apple owes its iPhone success to its own application processors (AP).

He observed that Apple's products are "built entirely from standard chips with the exception of the application processor." Although Apple designs its own AP, "we have seen little evidence that this AP provides any significant advantage over off-the-shelf processors from Qualcomm and others," he noted.

"The excellent graphics performance of the iPad, for example, comes from a licensed Imagination GPU that is available to other chip or phone makers. The performance of the Apple-design CPU core is very good, but no better than that of Snapdragon. Qualcomm supports high-end video and imaging features that match or exceed the iPhone's capabilities," he explained.

Going for MIPS?

Not everyone agrees with Gwennap.

Will Strauss, president of Forward Concepts, thinks Google could still differentiate from Apple if it "can show chips with superior (hopefully) performance vs. Apple's ARM-based approach."

Strauss theorised, "What if Google goes for non-ARM platform, such as Imagination Technologies' MIPS?"

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