Google breaks from Qualcomm with in-house Pixel 6 chip

Tensor will become Google's first custom-built system-on-chip

Google has announced that its upcoming Pixel 6 smartphone will feature the tech giant’s very own, in-house-built processor.

The Tensor system on a chip (SoC) marks a shift away from Google’s 15-year relationship with Qualcomm, which had up until this point provided the processors for Pixel devices.

In a blog post detailing the announcement, Google’s SVP for Devices & Services, Rick Osterloh, said that Tensor is Google’s “first custom-built SoC specifically for Pixel phones, and it will power the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro later this fall”.

The processor will be adapted for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities, in order to “unlock specific experiences for (...) Pixel users”, he added.

This will include better AI-powered photography tools as well as real-time translation services.

“The team that designed our silicon wanted to make Pixel even more capable. For example, with Tensor we thought about every piece of the chip and customized it to run Google's computational photography models. For users, this means entirely new features, plus improvements to existing ones,” said Osterloh. “Tensor enables us to make the Google phones we’ve always envisioned — phones that keep getting better, while tapping the most powerful parts of Google, all in a highly personalised experience.”

The processor is also designed with user privacy in mind, and will provide “the most layers of hardware security in any phone”, which is “based on a count of independent hardware security subsystems and components”.

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However, the Tensor processor will only become available later this year with the arrival of the Pixel 6. The date of the release hasn’t yet been specified.

Google’s upcoming smartphone model, The Pixel 5a, which is expected to launch on 18 August, will remain powered by Qualcomm technology. However, it might be too early to tell whether Google’s shift to in-house processors will be permanent, or whether it’s a temporary move in order to avoid production bottlenecks as Qualcomm struggles to keep up with demand amid the global chip shortage.

In a statement given to Reuters, a Qualcomm spokesperson said that the company "will continue to work closely with Google on existing and future products based on Snapdragon platforms”.

This also includes the Google-Qualcomm collaboration announced late last year, which is to enable all new mobile platforms with Qualcomm silicon to receive four OS version updates and four years of security updates.

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