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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?

Strauss warned that pursuing differentiation in SoC designs based on the ARM platform, embraced by everyone else, is a tough proposition. "If some company wanted to take out an 'architectural' license from ARM and tweak it to Google's need, they would have to invest at least $100 million," said Strauss. "I know that several years ago Qualcomm dropped $300 million in tweaking one of ARM's cores for better performance."

Other analysts suggested that this potential move by Google might make sense if the objective is to streamline the ever expanding fragmentation in Android hardware.

Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at TIRIAS Research, said, "A more standardised architecture would simplify the many different versions. There are multiple GPUs, DSPs, ISPs, CPU configurations (flavours of big-little, AMD vs. x86) that Android has to deal with.

Gwennap, however, pointed out, "Even if Google designs its own chips, this would not solve the fragmentation problem inherent in the Android business model." He added, "Whenever Google tries to restrict the Android community, it loses business and is generally forced to relent."

Android One

The case in point is Google's Android One programme, designed to change the developing world by providing product planning more controlled, standardised and managed by Google. The initiative, however, has failed to catch fire in target nations such as India and China.

Android One

According to reports, the local OEM community has largely rejected Google's plan. Android One OEMs discovered that the available list of components and suppliers was too short, making it difficult for them to differentiate their handsets.

If Google's plea to chip vendors was to partner with Google to develop Android chips for emerging markets, Krewell, too, believes it's a non-starter.

"I'm sceptical that the entry level phones and Geo's like China and India will buy into a standardised Google chip," said Krewell. Small handset makers in developing countries "will use localised versions of Android that don't use Google services," he observed.

Krewell concluded that the chips [Google is looking for] "will most likely have higher-end features [that allow Android] to compete with Apple."

With Android now moving into clamshells (Google's Pixel C), the company may also be looking for a more powerful chip, he added.

Vision hardware?

Gwennapp isn't sure what these new features [Google is looking to enable in its future Android OS] would be, because "existing processors already are quite powerful," he said. "One area Google has been exploring is 3D vision (Project Tango). So perhaps they are looking to including vision hardware in future processors."

Project Tango is a smartphone and tablet project started by a division of Motorola. The "Project Tango" prototype is an Android smartphone-like device that tracks the 3D motion of the device, and creates a 3D model of its environment.

Google is currently using a chip designed by Movidius for Project Tango.

Who will go along with Google?

A popular hypothesis in the press is that Google is looking to make Android a virtual reality (VR) OS. Google's "huge VR push," in this view, is driving Google to look for new chip designs with chip vendors.

Krewell countered, "Chips for VR don't need a lot of customisation, it mostly needs an optimised GPU." He noted that Qualcomm has done early work with Oculus and Samsung with the first developer version of the GearVR headset. Other GPUs from ARM, Imagination, and Nvidia may need some changes to be optimised for mobile SoC VR.

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