As the makers of the two largest mobile operating systems, Google and Apple have copied each other’s smartphone software for years. Now Google has taken a page from Apple’s hardware playbook: The search giant has designed the computing chip powering its latest phones.
On Monday, Google unveiled its Pixel 6 phones, the first to include its custom chips, which are called Tensor. The Tensor chip will enable the phones to rapidly perform complex computing tasks, the company said.
Google’s Android mobile operating system is by far the most widely used in the world, but its Pixel sales are dwarfed by those of Apple smartphones. A major disadvantage for Google has been its approach to hardware: Because it relied on third parties for mobile chips, it couldn’t make its phones as zippy as competitors that designed their chips in house.
In 2008, Apple acquired P.A. Semi to design the mobile processors that would eventually power its iPhones and iPads.
Now Google, with its own chip design, has embedded the most complex and frequently used algorithms, like voice transcriptions and advanced photography effects, into the processor to improve speeds, said Rick Osterloh, Google’s head of devices and services. That could give the Pixel a boost to compete with Apple and Samsung, which dominate the high-end phone market.
Google’s goal of a successful phone business has been expensive and rocky. After acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion a decade ago and failing to sell a hit phone, Google sold the company three years later to Lenovo for about $3 billion. In 2018, Google closed a $1.1 billion deal to acquire most of HTC’s smartphone design unit, with more than 2,000 HTC engineers moving to Google.
Google’s investment in its in-house chip will lead to higher costs for consumers. Prices will be announced when the Pixel 6 phones are released this fall, Osterloh said, but he confirmed that the premium model, Pixel 6 Pro, was expected to surpass the cost of last year’s Pixel 5, which started at $700.