Google Pixel 2 takes on iPhone with Apple’s own chip designer

Chris Burns - Jun 13, 2017
Google Pixel 2 takes on iPhone with Apple’s own chip designer

Google just hired Apple’s processor designer for mobile products, and they’ve put him in charge of making their own Pixel SOC. Manu Gulati worked with companies like AMD and Broadcom before moving to Apple in 2009, leading as inventor on a number of key processor-related patents. This may mean that Google will follow in Apple’s footsteps for the Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 (probably 3, at this point) – which could mean the axe for Qualcomm from Pixel devices.

Back in 2014 Apple was granted the patent for their “security enclave” for the iPhone’s mobile processor. This is the piece of the iPhone that makes Apple’s products so extremely secure. This piece of technology enables Touch ID and has been the subject of some controversy over the past several years. While first questioned by senators for lack of knowledge about the Secure Enclave, the iPhone’s security technology was later proven super-secure by the NYPD and FBI in the first half of the year 2016.

Gulati can be found on a number of patents registered to Apple over the past few years, including the Secure Enclave. Manu Gulati is cited as one of several main designers of the Secure Enclave on patents for the technology. Also on the list is a patent for “Security Enclave Processor Power Control”

According to Linkedin and USPTO patent listings, Gulati also worked with Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) in the late 1990s and Broadcom through the early 2000s. The first patent that lists him as an inventor with Apple as an applicant is filed in September of 2012 – and that’s the first “Security Enclave Processor for a System on a Chip” on the list.

Patents for Apple with Gulati as Inventor:
• “Interrupt Timestamping”
• “Memory power savings in idle display case”
• “Protocol conversion involving multiple virtual channels”
• “Programmable resources to track multiple buses”
• “Race-free level-sensitive interrupt delivery using fabric delivered interrupts”
• “Fabric Delivered Interrupts”
• “Security enclave processor power control”
• “Mechanism for sharing private caches in a SOC”
• “Always-On Audio Control for Mobile Device”
• “Edge-triggered interrupt conversion in a system employing level-sensitive interrupts”
• “Efficient trace capture buffer management”
• “Bandwidth management”
• “System on a chip (SOC) debug controllability”
• “Configuration fuse data management in a partial power-on state”
• “Clock switching in always-on component”
• “Serial wire debug bridge”
• “System on a chip with always-on processor which reconfigures SOC and supports memory-only communication mode”
• “Method for waking a data transceiver through data reception”
• “Method and apparatus for providing telemetry for power management functions”
• “Memory management unit with prefetch ability”

Patents listed as invented by Gulati with Apple point toward Gulati’s capabilities, but they don’t make specific what he’ll do with Google. What DOES make specific – or at least a little more specific – is the job listing for the position Gulati is now in. According to Google, the following is what they were looking for in a “Mobile SOC Lead Physical Designer, Hardware.”

Mobile SOC Lead Physical Designer, Hardware, Responsibilities:
• Work with architects and logic designers to drive architectural feasibility studies, develop timing, power and area design targets, and explore RTL/design tradeoffs for physical design closure.
• Propose, analyze, implement, and audit floorplans, clock trees, ball-outs, metal utilization, standard cells / SRAMs, and power distribution.
• Participate in efforts to establish CAD and physical design methodologies (flow and tools development), and automation scripts.
• Perform technical evaluations of vendors, process nodes, and IP and provide recommendations.

Google goes so far as to specifically mention how they’ll soon make their own processors in this job listing. “Our computational challenges are so big, complex and unique we can’t just purchase off-the-shelf hardware, we’ve got to make it ourselves,” wrote Google. “Your team designs and builds the hardware, software and networking technologies that power all of Google’s services.”

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Google also designs their Pixel phones, but has HTC do the manufacturing. Apple designs their iPhones and their mobile processors, but has them manufactured by companies like Foxconn and Samsung. As a result, Apple’s devices are extra long-lasting and can be updated with the latest in iOS software years after they’ve been made.

With this kind of knowhow behind the wheel for the Google Pixel’s first Google-designed processor, it’ll be time for Google to step up production and advertising. This will be Google’s iPhone, in as close a sense I can get to saying that without the two companies literally combining their efforts.

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