In brief: With the Tensor chip on the upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google is looking to create aspirational phones for the Android market. However, the company’s ambitions extend well beyond phones, so it’s also developing custom silicon for new Chrome OS hardware that could land on the market as early as 2023.
Last month, Google said it would debut the first Pixel phone lineup to be powered by a custom-built chipset, which will not only reduce its reliance on Qualcomm, but also offer Android fans the sort of hardware and software integration that Apple has been doing with the iPhone for years.
The next logical step is to expand on that idea with self-made chipsets for tablets and Chromebooks, and the company is reportedly planning to do so in the coming years. According to Nikkei, Google could debut the first device powered by the new chipset as early as 2023, but that date could slip further and it’s not yet clear whether it will be a tablet or a laptop.
Details are scarce at this point, but Nikkei does point out the new chip will be Arm-based just like the Tensor chip on the upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, and will build on the company’s experience with designing AI accelerators and optimizing Android for a variety of mobile chipsets. The company is currently hiring chip engineers from Israel, Taiwan, and India to work on the project.
Apparently, Google was so impressed by Apple’s foray into custom silicon with the M1 SoC that it became interested in replicating that success within the Android and Chrome OS ecosystems. And the company isn’t alone — Microsoft is developing custom Arm-based chips for servers and Surface PCs, Amazon has been transitioning back to Graviton chipsets for its AWS data centers, AMD is exploring the idea of an Apple M1 rival itself, and pretty much every other tech giant has some plans for an Arm-based chip.
Google’s efforts with the Pixelbook Go Chromebook and Pixel Slate have so far produced only modest results, and a few years later the company has yet to announce a successor for these devices. Since then, the company has been cultivating a close relationship with Samsung, which is manufacturing the Tensor chip and other components in the upcoming Pixel phone lineup.
It will be interesting to see if the two companies are also collaborating on new Chrome OS hardware. As of writing, analysts estimate the cost of building a chip based on TSMC’s 5nm process costs around $500 million, but the current frenzy to build custom chipsets could make it difficult to secure enough production capacity.