Google on Monday unveiled the latest generation of its flagship phone line, the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, to compete in a crowded field dominated by Apple and Samsung. The 5G phones, which will launch in the fall, are powered by a new system-on-a-chip that Google has designed in-house.
Like most Android phone makers, Google has long relied on Qualcomm’s SOCs to power its devices. But designing its own processor to act as the brain of the device allows Google to better tailor the chip for the features it deems most important. The new chip, called Tensor, can boost the computing power and boost the video capabilities of Pixel phones, optimizing features that lagged behind competitors from previous Pixel models.
The new chip is only part of a major overhaul of Google’s phones. The most noticeable hardware change is a black camera strip towards the top of the phone that runs across the width of the back. In contrast, last year’s phone’s camera was housed in a small square in the upper left corner of the back. Both phones have a new sensor that absorbs 150% more light than the Pixel 5, as well as an ultra-wide lens. The 6 Pro has an additional telephoto lens with 4x optical zoom.
The phones are also more colorful than the previous models, with pastel patterns in green, blue, pink, etc. The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch screen that spans the front of the device, while the 6 Pro’s screen is 6.7 inches. Both are larger than last year’s 6-inch Pixel 5.
Specific pricing and release dates have yet to be released. The predecessor Pixel 5 started at $ 699 and launched in October.
The Pixel 6 line faces serious pressure as Google continues to struggle in the premium phone market. When it comes to smartphone software, Google’s Android is the world’s most widely used mobile operating system, powering nearly nine out of 10 smartphones shipped globally. But the company has failed to gain traction with its own branded phones, and sales have been poor for years. Google executives have in the past blamed slow adoption on fierce competition in a high-end phone market led by Apple and Samsung.
In the United States, no company has been able to compete with the two giants. In the second quarter of 2021, Pixel held 0.7% of the market, up from 1.3% in the same period a year earlier, according to Strategy Analytics. Still, Google has defended its decision to continue investing in high-end phones.
âPart of the goal is to show the best that Google has to offer,â said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of Google’s hardware division, in an interview last week. âThere is a large segment of the market that wants the latest in, and we love building technology. So we will try to appeal to that part of the market as well. “
Google’s decision to design the Pixel’s chip comes as other tech giants have taken more steps to develop the brains of their devices, not just software and hardware.
Samsung has a long history of making components for some of its devices, and Microsoft has partnered with Qualcomm to design a processor for its Surface devices. Apple, in particular, has benefited from the use of its own chips in everything from its iPhones to its Macs. Apple’s internal development has allowed it to focus on making its processor powerful but also energy efficient. Apple’s computer silicon M1, which arrived in November on select Macs, is twice as powerful as a competing laptop chip and consumes a quarter of battery life, Apple said when unveiling the computers .
For Google, the increase in the computing power of the Tensor chip will also allow better artificial intelligence on the pixels. This includes improved speech recognition, like dictation of texts, and more high-end photography, like software upgrades that make photos less blurry. âThis is the biggest innovation we’ve made in Pixel to date, designed in collaboration with our AI and Android teams to deliver the best experience at the intersection of hardware, software and technology. ‘AI for years to come,’ said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. A declaration.
Qualcomm, which supplied chips to Google for previous Pixel models, played down the move, adding that its Snapdragon processor remains “synonymous” with Android phones. âQualcomm Technologies and Google have been partners for more than 15 years, starting with the release of the first Android devices,â a spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with Google on existing and future products based on the Snapdragon platforms to deliver the next generation of user experiences in the 5G era.”
Tensions in the “distant past”
Selling devices has become a crucial business for Google as people access the internet from more places than their desktops, the primary point of contact when the tech giant was founded more than 20 years ago. two decades. Now people are asking smart speakers to play curated playlists, use phones to order take out, or create jogging routes with mapping apps.
The more Google knows about people and their interests, the more valuable its ads are to marketers who pay the company to target potential buyers based on their likes, dislikes, age, interests and location. their location. The company’s massive digital advertising operation, which is under investigation by antitrust regulators, generates the vast majority of Google’s more than $ 180 billion in annual sales.
A major turning point for Google’s hardware operations came five years ago, when the company hired Osterloh, the former president of Motorola, to lead a dedicated team focused on building consumer devices. A year later, Google paid $ 1 billion to bolster its ranks in hardware engineering through a deal with Taiwanese maker HTC.
The Pixel 6’s announcement comes after Google’s phone team faced upheaval and turmoil following the release of previous models. Osterloh reportedly criticized product decisions made during the development of the Pixel 4, which saw poor sales. Mario Queiroz, the former head of the Pixel division, left the company last year after leaving the smartphone team the year before. Marc Levoy, who made Google’s smartphone software a leader in mobile photography, also left last year.
Levoy, who now works at Adobe, isin “computer photography”, which relies on software to enhance images. He helped develop several camera features for the Pixel, including Portrait mode, which sublimates smartphone photos to make them look professional, and Night Sight, which brightens images in low light. Many of the features he designed for the search giant were applauded by critics and consumers alike and eventually found their way onto competing devices, like Apple’s iPhones.
Osterloh declined to comment on tensions in the Pixel Division, saying only they were in the “distant past.” Google has since revamped the division and Osterloh now heads the Pixel unit, in addition to his role overseeing the larger Google hardware group, he told CNET.
As Google continues to struggle in the premium mobile device market, it faces criticism of how seriously it wants to be in the phone business – or if it’s just a pass. costly time.
âWe don’t usually talk about profit and loss,â Osterloh said. “But our goal is not to lose money on this. We are certainly trying to run this like a business.”