Google reportedly picked an old Android friend to build Pixel 6’s Tensor

Chris Davies - Aug 3, 2021, 2:21pm CDT
Google reportedly picked an old Android friend to build Pixel 6’s Tensor

Google may have designed its own Pixel 6 chip for the upcoming Android flagship, but the company has reportedly turned to a familiar name to actually produce the new Tensor SoC. Announced yesterday, alongside a preview of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, Google Tensor is the company’s first homegrown design for a smartphone processor as it takes a leaf out of Apple’s playbook.

Pixel devices until now – including the latest Pixel 5 – have relied on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series of chipsets. While Google has experimented with its own design of co-processors, such as the Pixel Visual Core in early Pixel phones, and then a Pixel Neural Core in more recent devices, it has left the primary SoC to others.

That all changes with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Google Tensor – four years in the making, the company said – will put an emphasis on machine learning and AI, it’s promised. That’ll be used for things like computational photography, voice recognition and translation features, and improvements in security.

Google omitted plenty of details in its Tensor announcement, including any information on the 5G capabilities of the chipset. However according to a report from Nikkei Asia today, insiders in the chip supply chain say Google has partnered with Samsung on production. Tensor, they suggest, will use Samsung’s 5-nanometer process technology.

That’s the same tech which Samsung uses to build Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chipsets, coincidentally. Samsung declined to comment on the report, though has previously said that one of its aims for the year is to push its 4nm and 5nm production business.

The decision to go with Samsung for Google Tensor production is notable, because Google already has a track record of working with TSMC on other chips. Google’s TPUs – short for Tensor Processing Units, though more application-specific and intended for the company’s neural network servers – are built by TSMC, and there was initial speculation that the foundry might also clinch this new Pixel chip deal. TSMC is also Apple’s primary chip-maker, and currently exclusively supplies both the A-Series and M-Series Apple Silicon chipsets for mobile and Mac respectively.

Pixel sales have never amounted to a significant portion of the smartphone market, suggesting that the loss of Snapdragon business for Qualcomm will be relatively minor. Although unconfirmed, it’s entirely likely that Qualcomm is supplying 5G modems for the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, since only the Snapdragon X-Series modems currently support both Sub-6GHz and mmWave connectivity which is deployed in the US.

Google has said it will share more details on the Pixel 6 family, and the Tensor chipset inside, closer to the smartphones’ launch. That’s expected later in the year.

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