Google to power new Pixel phones with own chip

Google will use a custom chip designed in house to power the next generation flagship Pixel smartphones, following in the footsteps of Apple and Samsung to rid themselves of the perceived limitations of off-the-shelf offerings.

Wei Shi

August 3, 2021

4 Min Read
Google to power new Pixel phones with own chip

Google will use a custom chip designed in house to power the next generation flagship Pixel smartphones, following in the footsteps of Apple and Samsung to rid themselves of the perceived limitations of off-the-shelf offerings.

In a blogpost, Rick Osterloh, Google’s Senior VP for Devices & Services, explained that the company has decided to develop its own SoC to power its own devices because they have “run into computing limitations that prevented us from fully pursuing our mission. So we set about building a technology platform built for mobile that enabled us to bring our most innovative AI and machine learning (ML) to our Pixel users.”

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, shared his excitement in a tweet:

View post on X

Named along the same line as Google’s open source machine learning platform TensorFlow and its machine learning focused ASIC chip series Tensor processing unit (TPU), the Google Tensor is Google’s first SoC dedicated to smartphone — earlier Tensor ASICs are for datacentres. In addition to the CPU, GPU, and image processor, Google believes the biggest improvements it can make with its own design is the chip’s on-device AI and machine learning capability, especially when it comes to processing photos and videos, or, as Osterloh put it, the chip is customised “to run Google’s computational photography models.”

Other on-device AI and machine learning use cases include instant transcribing and translation. While these features have been included in models from Pixel 4 onward, Google believes the customed SoC will be more efficient in computing power and delivering better user experience.

Google, as well as the other hyperscalers Amazon, Microsoft, and Alibaba, started designing their own chips for datacentres, focusing on AI and ML capabilities instead of focusing on growing the overall computing power. It is now the latest smartphone maker to go down this route, following Apple (“Bionic”) and Samsung’s (“Exynos”) example.

Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, “conflict of interest”, and the semiconductor shortage

Osterloh’s blog officially confirmed what has been making rounds in the rumour mills since at least May that two new high-end Pixel models will be launched later this year, with distinct design revamp. The product images leaked to the community sites are also proved to be correct.

Google shared some features of the new products in a Twitter thread, but more details will be disclosed when it gets closer to the launch date. The phones “are coming this fall”.


With a fuller portfolio, covering the premium segment with its flagship models like the upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro and the mass market segment with the “A” series, it looks Google is updating its smartphone strategy, from showcasing Android capabilities to more seriously gaining market share. Tensor and the flagship products it will power will play a defining role. “Tensor will help to differentiate Google’s upcoming range of Pixel 6 phones with a unique chip that is not sold in any other model for now. Tensor maximizes what can be done on an Android phone today,” Neil Mawston, Executive Director of Strategy Analytics, a research firm that tracks the smartphone market, told

Paradoxically, as it ups the vertical integration game, from silicon to service and cloud, Google may find itself pitted against some of its most important partners. “Depending on how Google leverages this vertical design approach, it will drive implications on the ecosystem,” Neil Shah, Partner & Vice President at Counterpoint, another research firm that follows the smartphone market, shared his take on how the future scenarios could play out. “Firstly, if Google decides to scale the vertically integrated Pixel across geographies than a handful of markets right now just like iPhone then it will be competing head-on with its OEM partners and more so with Samsung itself in offering the best Android experience in a bigger way. Secondly, if Google decides to still keep Pixel a ‘benchmark device’ and not scale but adopt a horizontal approach to license this IP or silicon to other OEMs bundled with Google Android, then it will be competing head-on with its silicon partners,” Shah explained.

Google hasn’t sold many Pixel phones — it is among a long tail of brands in the “Others” category on smartphone market share charts. “So the dent on Qualcomm, MediaTek in near-to mid-term is quite low as Google Pixel has limited reach and less than 0.3% market share,” Shah said. Though it’s highly unlikely that Google will ditch Qualcomm, its chip supplier, any time soon. Its non-flagship products will continue to use Qualcomm’s standard Snapdragon solutions.

However, the small volume might prove a blessing in disguise for Tensor. Given the expected low volume and the fact that Google has been working on the chip for a long time, it is likely the supply may well have been secured before the current global semiconductor crisis hit home.

However, all this does not mean Tensor will be a guaranteed success. As Strategy Analytics’ Mawston put it, “Of course, Tensor is not yet proven in the real world. Tensor may look good on paper, but it could still flop when the tech comes to market. Planning is easy, delivery will be much harder.”

About the Author(s)

Wei Shi

Wei leads the Intelligence function. His responsibilities include managing and producing premium content for Intelligence, undertaking special projects, and supporting internal and external partners. Wei’s research and writing have followed the heartbeat of the telecoms industry. His recent long form publications cover topics ranging from 5G and beyond, edge computing, and digital transformation, to artificial intelligence, telco cloud, and 5G devices. Wei also regularly contributes to the news site and other group titles when he puts on his technology journalist hat. Wei has two decades’ experience in the telecoms ecosystem in Asia and Europe, both on the corporate side and on the professional service side. His former employers include Nokia and Strategy Analytics. Wei is a graduate of The London School of Economics. He speaks English, French, and Chinese, and has a working knowledge of Finnish and German. He is based in’s London office.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like