By launching its own SoC (System-on-Chip), Google is trying to follow the footmarks of Apple. But, it’s appearing to be a bumpy ride for the company which is widely known for its dominance on Internet and software services.
Apple’s devices always have an edge over other tech companies in terms of their hardware performance which they often like to upgrade each year. It became possible because the company designs its own in-house chips especially the A-x processor which is the most efficient one when compared to others.
Other big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have hired experts to build their own chips for multiple purposes like speeding up their artificial intelligence algorithms on servers to powering augmented reality headsets. But building such complicated hardware components is costly and technically not feasible, especially for companies that specialize in software and internet services.
Following the same path, Google started designing their own chip for which it hired sixteen highly talented engineers. The company planned to increase the team size to 80 by 2020. The whole objective behind having its own SoC is to use custom-designed chips on the premium lineup of Pixel devices.
Not everything goes as per the plan, even for the tech giants like Google!
Recently three engineers – Manu Gulati, John Bruno and Vinod Chamarty – who were the key members of the SoC team have left Google. Manu and John were the former employees of Apple, while Vinod came from Qualcomm. It is indeed a huge loss for Google as all the three were prominent members of the SoC team. Mr Gulati, the former Broadcom veteran, who formerly led Apple’s chip design efforts, was the most important member that Google hired back in 2017. Google has confirmed the departures but declined to comment further.
Despite the recent blow Google continues to strengthen its SoC team by hiring engineers in India and international. So far, the team has focused on designing components for lower-end and simpler products which can be built easily and require less investment than more powerful, technically complex chips, said a person familiar with Google’s plans. The team has already developed a chip for enhanced image processing capabilities inside Pixel phones, while the other one is capable to enhance security offered by Pixel 3 smartphones.
Google’s cloud team also has taken effort to build processors, called Tensor Processing Units that are designed to accelerate artificial intelligence tasks on computers inside its data centres. It is designed for neural network and machine learning.
Apple began developing its own chips in 2008 when Steve Jobs, the visionary CEO of Apple, had acquired chip start-up PA Semi for $278 million in order to reduce dependency on third-party chip manufacturers. The company used its in-house designed mobile chipset inside the first iPad in the year 2010. Thereafter Apple’s A-series chips have become the best-performing mobile processors in the tech industry. Apple is reportedly working on its own desktop processors for its Mac line to replace those provided by PC chip industry monopolist Intel. Besides, the company is also designing its own cellular modems to replace wireless leader Qualcomm.
The benefits of custom designed chipsets are quite evident from the following speed test result which puts Google’s Pixel 3L on sham against the iPhone XS Max.
Unlike Apple or Samsung, Google is widely known for its services and software; and is comparatively a new entrant in the hardware business. How fatal the recent blow received by Google due to the departure of key executives could be only the time will tell.