In the long standing battle for top spot and market dominance in the tech world through innovative proprietary technology is nothing new. Google and Apple’s rivalry through the System on a Chip (SoC) technology is just unfolding a new chapter.
Close on the heels of Apple’s System on a Chip (SoC) powering its Macs, iPads, and iPhones creating record sales, Google used its recent developer even I/O 2022 (I/O stands for input-output) to unleash an array of consumer devices by announcing new product lines, new iterations of existing products, and the adoption of Google’s Tensor SoC across other devices. Critics say that Google has taken a leaf out of Apple’s playbook to launch a competitive foray into devices that will pit it directly against the market-leading iPhones, and iPads, with its range of Pixel devices
An SoC is essentially an integrated circuit or an IC that takes a single platform and integrates an entire electronic or computer system onto it. It is, exactly as its name suggests, an entire system on a single chip. The components that an SoC generally looks to incorporate within itself include a central processing unit, input and output ports, internal memory, as well as analogue input and output blocks among other things.
SoCs power Apple’s profits
Apple is a recent example of the positive impact an optimized SoC can have on sales, as its Mac revenue grew 25% YoY in fiscal Q1 2022 from $8.7 billion to $10.9 billion a year after it released Mac devices with its M1 SoC. The Apple M1 is an ARM-based SoC designed by Apple. as a CPU and graphics GPU for its Macintosh desktops.
The M1 substantially increased the performance and energy efficiency of the Macs, but more importantly, it integrated the Macs closer with the iPhone and iPad. Historically, Mac devices have been unable to integrate with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem as well as other Apple products because, until the release of the M1, Macs were run on Intel chips.
Google expands Pixel portfolio
As well as announcing updates to its Android operating system during its 2022 I/O event, Google expanded its Pixel portfolio of products. Dubbed the ‘Pixel family of devices’ by Google, the company announced the Pixel 6a smartphone and Pixel Buds Pro as well as the upcoming Pixel 7 smartphone lineup, Pixel Smartwatch, and Pixel Tablet. The company also teased AR glasses being used for live transcription but did not mention if they would be part of the Pixel portfolio or even manufactured by Google.
The Pixel Buds Pro, Pixel Smartwatch, and Pixel Tablet are all first iteration Google devices, expanding the company into new markets to better challenge rivals Apple and Samsung which already own their own iterations of these products. The Pixel Watch is Google’s first-ever smartwatch, a device much anticipated since Google announced its intent to acquire Fitbit in 2019. The Pixel Buds Pro, while not Google’s first true wireless stereo (TWS) product, is the first pro-class TWS produced by Google.
Integration across devices, hardware & software
However, the underlying messaging throughout the event centred on Google’s ecosystem and increased the adoption of Tensor. While Google has had consumer products and services for many years, the adoption of Tensor across its devices will elevate its ecosystem in a way previously unachievable for the company, as the SoC will enable deeper levels of integration across Google’s devices and between its hardware and software, positioning it to better compete against rivals. Google’s emphasis on new devices signals that a company best known for its dominant search engine and other popular internet software is confident it now has a better handle on how to design and manufacture hardware.
The competition heats up
The implications of this event will develop and intensify over the coming years as Google releases more products housing its Tensor chip and as the Tensor chip itself is updated and built upon. Rivals Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should prepare for increased competitive pressure from Google.
The introduction of new lines of products designed and owned by Google, coupled with greater adoption of the Tensor SoC, will revolutionize Google’s ecosystem. Until this point, Google’s device ecosystem was fragmented and lacked cohesion, proving weak competition against Apple and Samsung’s ecosystems.
The significance of Google having its own custom SoC is in designing the chip around its strategic objectives. Google, for example, designed and optimized its Tensor SoC with machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in mind, both of which are Google’s unique selling points (USPs). This will help distinguish Google’s Pixel products from rival products, giving Google the competitive edge with consumers interested in devices that prioritize ML and AI features and capabilities.
Samsung, Oppo get their SoC act together
Meanwhile, other OEMs are exploring creating their own SoCs, including Samsung and Oppo. Samsung already produces an SoC, the Exynos chipset, but it is not optimized for Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones as the chips are sold to other manufacturers for use in a wide range of devices, essentially making them general-use SoCs.
If the speculation is correct, Samsung will likely continue to distance itself from Google by offering its own exclusive Android features to provide consumers with a differentiated Android experience. In the interest of differentiation, a new wave of competition and innovation is dawning in the consumer devices industry, with in-house produced SoCs at the centre.
(Abhijit Roy is a technology explainer and business journalist. He has worked with Strait Times of Singapore, Business Today, Economic Times and The Telegraph. Also worked with PwC, IBM, Wipro, Ericsson.)
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