Apple‘s M1 turned out to be a big hit, with Mac and MacBook growth surging after the introduction of the new chip, suggesting that Google could and should follow this pattern with its own Tensor processor. Google’s current product line is quite similar to Apple’s. Both design phones, laptops, watches, earbuds, and both use their own operating systems for those devices. Currently, Apple is finding much greater success, and Google’s latest efforts might indicate it might be taking notes on how to replicate this winning strategy.
Apple is known for the tight hardware and software integration, which is one of the things that sets it apart from almost every other computer and mobile technology manufacturer. It starts at the very core of each device, designing the processor used in the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, HomePod, AirPods, and now even the Mac. The operating system (OS) that controls each of these devices is developed by Apple. The overall product design and pre-installed applications are also all made by Apple. That means that there is never a problem that’s out of its reach and the best solution will always be available, whether that happens in the app, the OS, a system component, or even within the silicon of the chip itself. Problems can be isolated and dealt with, while refinements that help performance and efficiency can be handled in a holistic way, maximizing potential throughout the system.
Google has a rare opportunity after designing its own silicon to use its new Tensor chip as the basis of an entire line of processors powering its various devices with a degree of unified purpose that might rival Apple. Microsoft tried to achieve this with its venture into hardware and has been successful with its Surface tablets, Surface Laptop, and Surface Book, although the Windows Phone didn’t have enough momentum. According to Nikkei Asia, Google might be planning to take a step onto the trail blazed by Apple by placing its own chip designs into future Chrome OS devices beginning in 2023. While the unnamed sources, a start date more than a year away, and the lack of confirmation puts this firmly in the rumor category, it is still an intriguing possibility to explore.
Google has already announced that its Tensor processor will power the new Pixel 6 and 6 Pro smartphones, allowing advanced computational image processing for improvements in both photos and videos as well as faster artificial intelligence results that are used throughout the system. By specializing low-level components to exactly match the needs of high-level systems, both performance and efficiency can be increased, sometimes dramatically. Google has done so on a smaller scale with its Pixel Visual Core and Neural Core chips that assisted the main Qualcomm processors used in earlier Pixel models. The upcoming Pixel 6 phones will be the first example of what a company like Google can achieve when bringing its particular needs to a custom chip design and this integration could be just as impressive as Apple’s efforts.
Going beyond the Pixel phones, Google could launch a new Pixelbook laptop with a Tensor-based chip in 2023, if the rumor from Nikkei is true. Google also owns Fitbit and an upgraded Pixel smartwatch, customized with Google silicon could bring Wear OS to new levels of performance and capabilities while integrating into the ecosystem alongside the Pixel phone and Pixelbook to serve as a universal key, just as Apple has done with Apple Watch. Google develops Android, Chrome OS, and Wear OS, so the matchup with Apple is unmistakable and makes sense financially as well as in terms of brand positioning and consumer interest. For many years, the biggest choice to be made by computer shoppers was whether to pick Windows or Mac, but the future may see Google and Apple becoming the top competitors at nearly every level.
Google’s Tensor is an exciting mobile processor that makes the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro much more interesting smartphones. However, that chip might become the lever that Google uses to tip the scales in its favor, albeit after a year of Apple dominating in mobile technology and advancing greatly in the computer market.