The current mobile phone hardware circle is a bit like the finals of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Over time, the circle shrinks and narrows, and the participating manufacturers are eliminated one by one.
Once upon a time, before a manufacturer’s new mobile phone was released, people would always make various guesses about the CPU of the new phone, whether it would be Texas Instruments, NVIDIA, Intel, Qualcomm, MediaTek, etc.
But now, with several manufacturers sadly leaving the market, the chip market has become much more boring. The mainstream SoC vendors can almost count it with one hand: Qualcomm and MediaTek competing for hegemony, the unique Apple A series, the struggling HiSilicon and Samsung Orion.
All along, the "chip finals" have been eliminating manufacturers, and it is rare to hear that latecomers enter the game.
▲ Picture from: 9to5Google.com
However, while the technological barriers of chips are getting higher and higher, there are still some ambitious manufacturers who want to climb the technological high ground. There are rumors that the "catfish" that will break this dull atmosphere is likely to be Google.
Will Google be the next chip "player"?
Pixel has always been called Google's "pro son" by Android users-it has the original Android native system, can be the first to experience the latest system version ahead of other Andorid phones, and the imaging system personally tuned by Google.
Now, Google may have to replace this "pro son" with a hand-polished "core."
Google’s self-developed chip is a bit like a monster in Loch Ness, but it’s not seen for a long time. In April 2020, Axios mentioned in a report that Google is cooperating with Samsung to design a chip code-named Whitechapel, and it has been successfully taped out.
Axios claims that Whitechapel is based on Arm commands and is an 8-core CPU design, integrating Google’s reserves of artificial intelligence and image processing technologies, and will be produced using Samsung’s 5nm process.
However, the development cycle of the chip is much longer than expected, and there may be a year or even longer time interval between the successful tape-out and mass production. Axios estimated that Google’s self-developed chip would take another year to be truly real. It is carried on the Pixel phone, which is the Pixel 6 series that is likely to be launched this year.
▲ Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. Picture from: Bloomberg.com
In the 2020 Google financial conference call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai also mentioned that he will make some more in-depth investments in the hardware direction. There have been comments that this is a signal that its self-developed chip Whitechapel will be released.
Now that the one-year period is approaching, more and more news about Whitechaple is revealed. According to the latest report from 9to5Google, Google’s mobile phones launched this fall will likely be equipped with a self-developed chip code-named GS101, where “GS” may be the abbreviation of Google Silicon.
The 9to5Google report also mentioned that the new chip is likely to be carried on two devices codenamed "Raven" and "Oriole" (crows and oriole), which may be the Pixel 6 and Pixel 5a 5G that will be released this fall. The development work is carried out in cooperation with Samsung's semiconductor department.
In other words, Google’s new chip is likely to be shared with Samsung’s Exynos 2100, including software components.
Some comments speculate that Google will apply its self-developed chips to Pixel phones and ChromeBook notebooks like Apple, opening up the hardware ecosystem from the chip level.
However, at present, Google's confidentiality work is still very strict. Google declined to comment on the above report. More information about Whitechaple's performance and chip architecture is still unknown.
This makes people can't help but look forward to whether there will be a mysterious hardware surprise waiting for us at the Google I/O conference to be held in May of this year.
If Google really wants to start anew, this will be the first time that Pixel series phones have abandoned Qualcomm chips. For fans of the Pixel series, this may be good news.
The use of Qualcomm’s flagship chips has always been the tradition of the Pixel digital series of mobile phones, but this tradition has changed on the Pixel 5 last year. Pixel 5 uses Qualcomm’s terminal chip Snapdragon 765G instead of Snapdragon 865. The outside world speculates that this It may be due to cost considerations.
The lack of a flagship chip is indeed a pity for the Pixel 5 series, which means that the Pixel 5 series has a lot of shortcomings in terms of performance compared with rivals that are also positioned as flagships.
And if Google switches to using self-developed chips, the hardware purchase cost will be greatly reduced, and the new generation of Pixel will likely be re-equipped with flagship-level chips, and there will be a greater improvement in performance compared to Pixel 5.
Google is serious about making cores
In fact, the previous Pixel series of mobile phones have been equipped with many self-developed chips by Google. Google is serious about making cores.
Among them, the Pixel Visual Core (PVC) on the Pixel 2 may be familiar to everyone. PVC is a chip developed by Google specifically for image processing. Its appearance made Pixel 2's camera performance known as the strongest single-camera phone at the time.
Pixel 2 refreshed the DxOMark photo ranking list, which was still authoritative at the time, surpassing the iPhone 8 Plus's 94 points to take the top spot with a high score of 99 points.
PVC has 8 cores and can perform 3 trillion calculations per second. With the blessing of PVC computing power, Pixel 2 can take HDR+ photos with consistent and clear front and back scenes in a time that the user is almost imperceptible.
▲ HDR+ has always been a big move for the Pixel series
And unlike the previous generation of Pixel, only the Google Camera app that comes with it can enjoy the exclusive HDR+ function. PVC allows third-party apps to also complete HDR+ calculations. Under any circumstances, the dark details can be clearly presented. This combination of software and hardware The computational photography effect was very amazing at the time.
After testing by AndroidCentral, it was found that PVC runs five times faster than the image processor of the Snapdragon 835, and its energy consumption is less than one-tenth of the 835. It is evaluated by AndroidCentral as "the secret weapon of the Pixel 2 camera."
On the Pixel 3 series, Google has developed a security chip called Titan M to ensure the data security of mobile phones.
Titan M can block the behavior of downgrading the Android system and attacking the Bootloader from the Boot level, and can limit the number of unlocking of malicious programs, prevent data tampering and theft, and protect the integrity of the Android system.
Google also provides Titan M API interfaces for third-party applications. For example, application developers can store passwords in Titan M to ensure data independence and security.
When I came to Pixel 4, the PVC chip that played an important role in the first two generations disappeared. It was replaced by Google’s newly developed Neural Core chip. Its function is equivalent to the more familiar TPU, which can efficiently complete HDR synthesis through machine learning. Computing tasks such as voice wake-up and facial recognition.
On the current latest Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a series, Neural Core was removed by Google again, and Titan M was retained. Google claims that this is because they can optimize the algorithm to allow the Snapdragon 765G to perform computing power similar to Neural Core.
▲ Pixel 5 Picture from: Gsmarena.com
However, on Pixel 5, the original face unlocking function has also been cut off. Compared with the previous generation, the need for neural computing has been reduced a lot. It is not difficult to remove the cost of Neural Core to make way for new features such as 5G. understanding.
Fortunately, on the new self-developed SoC GS101, this regret is likely to be made up. According to XDA, GS101 will integrate TPU and security chip Titan M, and the neural core will return.
If you don’t need a good-end Qualcomm chip, why do you need to use it yourself?
▲ MediaTek's market share in 2020 Q3 SoC surpasses Qualcomm to rank first, HiSilicon third
Counterpoint's third quarter 2020 global smartphone SoC chip market statistics report shows that MediaTek and Qualcomm still occupy half of the SoC market.
A fact that has to be admitted is that even if the mediocre Pixel series of mobile phones abandon Qualcomm chips and switch to self-developed cores, it will not have much impact on the chip market of the Android camp.
In other words, Google's entry will not change the situation of the game, but for the Pixel series and Google's hardware ecology, self-developed chips are of much greater significance.
The biggest significance of switching to self-developed chips is not to improve performance (don't expect too much from Google to beat Qualcomm), but to extend the update cycle of the system, in other words, it can be used longer.
Compared with the iOS system support for more than 6 years, the short update cycle of 2-3 years for the Android system is often criticized by users.
Two years ago, it was still the top flagship of Fenghua Zhengmao. Two years later, I could only watch the rising star update the new system, but I could not wait for the update. This was the normal state of the Android flagship in the past.
Regarding the inactive reasons for the Android system update, Ai Faner once took the lead in "Google and Qualcomm, can it solve the problem of Android upgrade?" " There is a detailed discussion in the article. If you want to extend the system update cycle, you need the assistance of the chip manufacturer to adapt, and if you hold the chip in your hands, you can eliminate this intermediate link.
XDA guesses that if Pixel 6 is replaced with Google’s self-developed chip, it may receive more than 5 years of system update support.
In addition to bringing innovations to the Pixel series, self-developed chips are also significant for Chromebooks, another important hardware series of Google.
According to Canalys PC analysis and statistics, Chromebook demand hit a record high in 2020, with annual shipments reaching 30.6 million units, and it will continue to maintain a strong growth momentum in 2021.
The M1 chip that Apple took out last year proved the potential of the Arm architecture in desktop-level systems. The high-performance Arm architecture processor has the potential to replace low-power X86 chips. Some comments predict that Chromebooks will be the next Arm architecture to replace X86. platform.
Switching to Arm architecture processors can bring Chromebooks lower hardware costs, better Android application experience, longer battery life, and the size can be made lighter and thinner. Chrome Unboxed once pointed out in an article that the Arm architecture is The next future of Chrombook.
The emergence of Google's self-developed chips can further promote the integration of the two platforms of Android and Chrome OS. For Chrome OS, which relies too much on the cloud, the richness of its software ecology will be improved.
So will Google use this to promote the ecological integration of PC and mobile phones, catch up with Apple or even surpass Apple?
Compared with Apple, Google still lacks the ability to design customized CPU and GPU architectures, as well as a powerful mobile graphics processing department. Judging from Google's current research and development capabilities, the possibility is not high.
Do we still have expectations for this mysterious chip?
Google is one of the few manufacturers that can penetrate multiple hardware ecosystems such as PCs, tablets, smart homes, and mobile phones. From this point of view, the potential of Google's self-developed chips is huge. After M1, this is likely to make the chip market excited again.
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