Why Google Is Making Its Own Phone Processors

Taking a page out of Apple’s book

Key Takeaways

  • Google reportedly is working on a custom chipset for upcoming Made-by-Google phones.
  • A Google-made processor could lead to better device performance and security for users.
  • Experts say Google could have a long way to go before it can stand up to Apple’s success with custom chips.
The new Google Pixel 3a is displayed during the 2019 Google I/O conference at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 07, 2019 in Mountain View, California

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Reports that Google is working on its own chipset similar to Apple’s Bionic chips are popping up again, and experts say they’re surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

A new report from 9to5Google says Google’s upcoming phones will utilize a new GS101 "Whitechapel" chip made by Google. This is a move similar to what Apple is already doing, making its own custom chipsets, instead of relying on those made by third-parties like Qualcomm.

"With their own chip, Google will have more control over their own devices while being able to update devices with the chip for a lot longer than they are able to now," Heinrich Long, a privacy expert with Restore Privacy, told Lifewire in an email. "We all know how long iPhones get new updates, and having a personalized chip is the main factor behind that."

Why Now?

With Qualcomm’s latest processors offering some outstanding results and already appearing in newer phones like the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, it might seem silly for Google to risk releasing a phone with its own chipset. But, experts say the change has been in the making for a long time now.

"I’m honestly surprised that it took Google this long to manufacture and introduce their own chipset into their flagship Pixel phones, especially since they had already manufactured their own Titan-M security chip," Eric Florence, a cybersecurity analyst at SecurityTech, told Lifewire in an email.

"I believe that the success being picked up by the sales of the Pixel phones is what is driving Google to invest in its own tech now instead of outsourcing it."

While no Pixels have reached the sales of other mainstream phones like the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy line, the Pixel had its best year yet in 2019. Though sales numbers in 2020 weren’t nearly as impressive, a renewed focus on making Pixel phones better could put Google in a good position to increase those figures to pre-pandemic levels. Bringing in its own processing core could be a great way to make the phones stand out more.

The success of Apple’s A-series and M1 chips has shown that users are more than willing to pay for quality custom chipsets, and Google also could be trying to build off the hype surrounding those devices. With digital privacy also a major issue, the move could be an attempt to offer better security for users picking up newer Pixels in the future.

Standing Up to the Competition

It’s also reported that the new GS101 chips will be developed with Samsung semiconductors similar to Samsung Exynos, which currently is one of the leading mobile processors available. If true, performance of the Google-made chips could be similar to the Exynos processors, which would help the first release stand out against well-established competitors like Qualcomm. 

This isn’t the first time Google has worked with custom-made chips, as Florence mentioned. Back in 2018, the company released details of its Titan-M security chip, which launched in the Pixel 3. The Titan-M was designed to provide better security, and could give Google a good starting point in creating a custom processor.

But despite the promise of a Google-made processor, Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, says Google’s first release with its own custom-made chips probably won’t be the strongest contender in the ring. 

"Companies like Apple have been able to refine their chips over many years, with public testing as a trial by fire of sorts," he said. "Google can do in-house and even beta testing and it still won't have one-tenth of the data Apple has collected from the process. It's also very likely their design and implementation won't be as efficient as the third-party chips they were using before."

Freiberger also says Google probably still will utilize the 5G modems made by third-party companies. However, he notes that he could see the company branching out to secure more control of the components used in future devices, including manufacturing its own 5G technology.

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