After buying $US1.1 ($2) billion of intellectual property and resources from HTC back in 2017, it appears the next big step for Google’s hardware division is creating its own homegrown computer chip.
News about Google’s latest hardware development comes from a report by Axios, which claims Google recently received the first functional prototypes of a custom-designed processor, code-named Whitechapel. Axios reports the chip was created thanks to partnership with Samsung, using the Korean electronics giant’s advanced 5-nanometre fabrication process.
The chip itself is said to be an 8-core ARM-based platform meant to power smartphones and, down the road, potentially other mobile devices like Chromebooks as well. In addition to standard computing and processing duties, Axios reports, Whitechapel is being tuned to better support AI and machine learning-related functions like the Google Assistant and the wider range of always-on Google services, like the Pixel’s “Now Playing” song identification feature. Axios reports Whitechapel isn’t expected to make it into retail devices until sometime in 2021 at the earliest.
Gizmodo reached out to Google for an official statement on the matter, but the company declined to comment.
Even without official confirmation, there’s obvious appeal for Google to create custom chips for its mobile devices. Many of the world’s biggest phone makers are already designing their own processors, such as Apple’s A-series chip, Samsung’s Exynos chips, and Huawei’s Kirin chips.
By creating custom silicon, companies gain greater control over the features and computing power that goes into their devices. When you consider how hard Google has been leaning into AI and machine learning to power a wide range of software and experiences, the freedom to add extra tensor cores or neural processing units onto a processor seems like a natural fit.
Google has already tried its hand at making smaller, more single-purpose processors, like its Titan M security chip or the Pixel Visual Core, which the Pixel 4 uses to support enhanced photo processing.
Designing its own chip could also help Google catch up to Apple, which for the past few years has enjoyed a performance advantage while most of its Android counterparts have largely relied on processors from Qualcomm and Mediatek.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact Whitechapel itself will have—or if it will even find its way into consumer devices in the end, as 2021 is a ways off—but moving forward, we should expect even more big-name gadget makers to explore creating custom silicon.