When Google launched its first Pixel phone, we all assumed it would be the iPhone’s biggest competitor. It didn’t quite work out that way. The Pixel has yet to break out among Android’s biggest selling phones and launches have been plagued with numerous bugs and issues.
That might change with the upcoming Pixel 6. A new report from 9to5Google says that the Pixel 6 will use Google’s first system-on-chip, codenamed GS101 Whitechapel. The Pixel would then be one of the only U.S. Android phones to ship without a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. The report says Google has assistance from Samsung to make the chip and it could share some common features. Samsung manufactured several of Apple’s earliest A-series chips before shifting to TSMC.
It’s not clear from the report whether the chip would be modeled after higher-end processors such as the Snapdragon 888 or stay closer to the mid-range like the Pixel 5’s Snapdragon 765.
Overseas phones from Samsung use its own Exynos chips, but Qualcomm largely has a monopoly on phones in the U.S. A homegrown chip from Google would be a major break and could lead to a renaissance for the Pixel, which has struggled to gain traction. Apple has been making its own smartphone chips since the iPhone 4 and it gives its handsets a huge speed and power efficiency advantage over Android phones.
This wouldn’t be Google’s first crack at a smartphone chip. It already makes a Tensor Processing Unit for AI cloud-based tasks as well as a smartphone version called the Pixel Neural Core. It also made an ISP called Pixel Visual Core for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3, but those tasks are now handled by the PNC. The Pixel 4 also included motion sensing made possible by the Soli chip but was discontinued with the Pixel 5.
However, a system-on-chip would be an entirely different animal. More importantly, a Google chip would give the iPhone its first true competitor that controls the whole stack. Google already makes one of the best cameras you can get in a smartphone, and recently it has begun siphoning features from Android to give the Pixel a degree of exclusivity. By controlling the processor, hardware, and OS (like Apple) Google could create one of the best phones to run Android. There’s a lot more that goes into it, of course, but the Pixel would instantly become the closest Android phone to an iPhone and make the competition between the two companies much more contentious.
The report also says the chip could power some Chromebooks as well, similar to Apple’s M1 chip for Macs. Google’s previous Chromebook efforts have used a range of processors from Intel—that would be another blow to the chipmaker, which has taken to bashing the MacBook following Apple’s split.