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, due to launch in the fall, are powered by a new system-on-chip that Google designed in-house.
Like most Android phone makers, Google has long relied on Qualcomm SOCs to power its devices. But designing its own processor to serve as the brain of the device allows Google to better customize the chip for the functions it considers most important. The new chip, called Tensor, can increase computing power and bolster the video capabilities of Pixel phones, taking advantage of features that lagged behind rivals in previous Pixel models.
The new chip is just one part of a major overhaul of Google phones. The most notable hardware change is a black camera strip towards the top of the phone that runs across the width of the back. By contrast, last year’s camera phone 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 previous models, with pastel schemes in green, blue, pink, and more. The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch screen that runs across 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.
Pricing and specific release dates have yet to be released. The predecessor Pixel 5 started at $ 699 and launched in October.
The Pixel 6 lineup faces great 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 lackluster for years. In the past, Google executives have blamed slow acceptance on fierce competition in a premium 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 owned 0.7% of the market, up from 1.3% during the same period last year, according to Strategy Analytics. Still, Google has defended its decision to continue investing in high-end phones.
“Part of the goal is to showcase the best that Google has to offer,” Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of Google’s hardware division, said in an interview last week. “There is a large segment of the market that wants the latest, and we love construction technology. So we are going to try to attract that part of the market as well.”
Google’s move to design the Pixel chip comes as other tech giants have taken more steps to develop the brains of their devices, not just the software and hardware.
Samsung has long made components for some of its devices, and Microsoft partnered with Qualcomm to design a processor for its surface devices. Apple, in particular, has benefited from using 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 M1 computer silicon, which arrived in some Macs in November, is twice as powerful as a rival laptop chip and consumes a quarter of battery life, Apple said when it introduced the computers.
For Google, increasing the computing power of the Tensor chip will also allow for better artificial intelligence in Pixels. That includes improved speech recognition, such as text dictation, and more high-quality photos, such as software updates that make photos less blurry.
“This is the biggest Pixel innovation we’ve made to date, designed in collaboration with our AI and Android teams to deliver the best experience at the intersection of hardware, software, and AI for years to come,” said Google CEO. , Sundar Pichai, in a statement.
Tensions in the ‘distant past’
Selling devices has become a crucial endeavor for Google because people access the Internet from more places than their desktops, the main point of contact when the tech giant was founded more than two decades ago. Now people tell smart speakers to play curated playlists, use phones to order takeout, or create jogging routes with map apps.
The more Google knows about people and their interests, the more valuable their ads will be to marketers who pay the business to target potential buyers based on their likes, dislikes, age, interests, and location. The company’s massive digital advertising operation, which has been investigated by antitrust regulators, generates the vast majority of Google’s annual sales of more than $ 180 billion.
A major turning point for Google’s hardware operation came five years ago, when the company chose Osterloh, the former president of Motorola, to lead a dedicated team focused on building consumer devices. A year later, Google paid $ 1 billion to increase its hardware engineering ranks through a deal with Taiwanese manufacturer HTC.
The Pixel 6 announcement comes after Google’s phone team faced shaking and upheaval following the launch of previous models. Osterloh supposedly criticized Product decisions made during the development of the Pixel 4, which had mediocre 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 “computational photography”, which relies on software to enhance images. It helped pioneer various camera features for the Pixel, including Portrait mode, which brightens smartphone photos so they look professionally taken, and Night Sight, which brightens images in low light. Many of the features it created for the search giant have been applauded by critics and consumers and eventually ended up on competing devices, such as Apple’s iPhones.
Osterloh declined to comment on the tensions in the Pixel division, saying only that they were in the “distant past.” Google has since reorganized the division, and Osterloh now heads the Pixel unit, in addition to his role of overseeing Google’s broader group of hardware, he told CNET.
As Google continues to struggle in the premium mobile device market, it faces criticism about how seriously it wants to be in the phone business, or if it is just an expensive hobby.
“We don’t usually talk about profit and loss,” Osterloh said. “But our goal is not to lose money on this. We certainly try to run this like a business.”