Google creates its own chip for the Pixel 6

US internet giant Google has joined the DIY chip gang with its latest smartphone launch in the shape of the Tensor SoC.

Thanks to the Arm business model, which licenses chip designs to third parties, and advanced foundries such as TSMC, a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making your own chip is already taken care of. Apple has had its own chip for years, as has Samsung, with new device-makers joining the fun all the time, so the only surprise is that it took Google this long.

In a blog post Senior Director at Google Silicon Monika Gupta announced ‘Google Tensor is a milestone for machine learning’. “With Google Tensor, we’re unlocking amazing new experiences that require state of the art ML — including Motion Mode, Face Unblur, Speech enhancement mode for videos and applying HDRnet to videos,” wrote Gupta. In other words, it can do more stuff. Whether all these ML capabilities give it an advantage over all the other chips, including the Qualcomm Snapdragons Google used until now, is for the chip reviewers to comment on.

The phones Tensor will debut in are the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. They feature a new industrial design in which the most obvious change is a protruding band on the back, housing all the camera stuff. This is a bold move by modern smartphone design standards, which tend towards the thin and flat, and may put some purists off. On the other hand it seems to be justified by the resulting camera improvements.

In other semiconductor news Globalfoundries, which was spun out of AMD over a decade ago and is majority owned by UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, has decided now is a good time to go public and is offering shares to the public that value the company at $25 billion. There is, of course, a global gold rush in this sector fuelled by a shortage of supply and geopolitical paranoia, so it seems safe to assume the timing of this move is right.

The likes of TSMC and Intel are throwing investment at creating fresh chip manufacturing capacity so GF needs to keep up. It also seems likely that a demonstrable willingness to invest will be matched by public funds as countries around the world strive for greater degrees of semiconductor supply independence.

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