Google hires Apple chip architect: are custom chips coming to Pixel phones?

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According to Variety, a recent hire at Google indicates big changes are coming for future versions of the Pixel phone. Manu Gulati, an Apple micro-architect who worked on the company’s chip development for nearly eight years, has just joined Google, announcing the hire today on his Linkedin profile.

With a new title of lead SoC architect, Gulati’s move could, on the surface, arguably point to any number of Google SoC (system on a chip) developments. The company currently has none. It’s a new position for Google, which currently relies on third-party chips for all their products. Nest uses a chip by Texas Instruments, for example, while current Pixel phones use Qualcomm.

The focus on developing chips for Pixel, however, seems to be confirmed by a over a dozen new SoC-related job offers posted by Google — many specific to mobile — including “Hardware Engineer, Mobile SoC Architect,” “Mobile SoC CPU Architect,” and “Mobile SoC Memory Architect.” The listings include phrases like “Architect the memory sub-system of a high-end mobile SoC; including core configuration and PPA (performance, power, area) tradeoffs,” and “Help define the architecture of future generations of phone and tablet SoCs.”

Internally designed chips were not a focus for Google in the past, but this looks to be changing. It’s likely due in no small part to the drastically increased burden placed on phone hardware in recent years to not only handle more processor-heavy experiences like VR and AR, but voice and visual cues without latency. Apple recently debuted Core ML at WWDC, its new machine learning framework API for developers that directly tackles these issues. Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, says the new API makes the iPhone six times faster at image recognition than the Google Pixel.

While The Information reported that Google was in talks to develop their own chips as far back as 2015, it’s become increasingly crucial for the company to advance in order to compete with Apple’s iPhone, and really, what consumers are demanding from mobile devices. (Our previous headline from 2016: “The Google phone is almost as good as the iPhone.”)

Gulati’s hire, coupled with Google’s additional bevy of job listings and recent news that it’s reportedly offered to invest around $880 million in LG’s Display division, shows a real effort on Google’s end to crank up hardware and mobile efforts for future products.

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