At the end of September, Google announced the Pixel C, a new tablet that when combined with a keyboard, became something of a hybrid. Google’s Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai, has stated that the Pixel C is the first tablet Google are building “end to end,” however this statement is potentially misleading because the company still rely on other manufacturers to supply the hardware components: the Pixel C doesn’t use a Google System-on-Chip, but the Tegra X1 as supplied by NVIDIA. However, we’ve seen a number of comments that appear to point towards Google thinking about developing its own mobile chipsets. And there’s an even bigger clue in the shape of a job being advertised on Google’s website for a Multimedia Chip Architect. The individual will need to “lead a chip development effort” and “work with other engineers to take chip to product shipment.” Google’s introduction to the post describes how, “…As a member of an extraordinarily creative, motivated and talented team, you develop new products that are used by millions of people.”
The new team member will be responsible for the multimedia performance in systems, working with the product and software teams. By multimedia, Google clarify explaining that this includes all aspects including image and video processing, stabilization, and working with emerging technologies and products. They are looking for somebody with at least ten years of experience in the chip design process and in shipping high performance multimedia chips.
Why would Google want to start developing and designing its own mobile chipsets? The advert is from the Pixel team so it might stand to reason that the post is for future Google Pixel products – and adds a little weight to the rumor that Google will close or rename the Nexus product line and replace it with the Pixel branding. However, designing a customized chipset requires a lot of money. It’s true that Google has massive cashflow and could easily afford such a venture, but we also know that Google is maturing as a business and will no longer splash money around on a project unless there is a purpose and is, presumably, financially viable. This is Apple’s approach: Apple’s customized chipsets give the business almost complete control over the performance and power consumption of their hardware, have simplified the costs of a new product – and the development costs are spread over the millions of devices it sells. Google’s Pixel C is not going to ship in anything like the same numbers of the Apple iPad.
However, as with the idea that the Pixel branding is set to appear more and more into 2016, the job posting lends credit to the idea that Google is planning on investing on “vertical integration,” that is, designing and building more and more components to create the hardware products that, ultimately, run Google’s software. We may be seeing Google seeking to develop an in-house chipset to power a future Pixel tablet model designed to take on the Microsoft Surface, or perhaps to run future Chromebook models and maybe a Pixel-branded smartphone or two. That the new chip architect will be involved in image and video processing might link towards some of the work we’ve seen within the Project Tango unit, or may be a push towards improving camera technology (as we are seeing from both Apple and Qualcomm). One of the shortfalls of mobile devices when used for photography is that the platform is unstable and it is difficult to stabilize it. A more stable platform – or a more stable image – will dramatically improve the quality of photographs and videos.
Still, Google do appear to have changing ambitions within the industry and one of these new ventures does appear to have Pixel branding. Perhaps Google is investing in new technologies to license to Android manufacturers for the betterment of the industry? At this time, we have more questions than answers but one thing is for sure: 2016 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for Google and its hardware product teams.