Google Unveils Tensor Chip for Upgrading Voice and Visual Tech on Future Pixel Smartphones
Google has unveiled the chipset built in-house for the upcoming Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones. The new Tensor chip will replace the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips installed in Pixel phones until now. Tensor had been code-named Whitechapel until now and will serve to upgrade many of the machine learning elements of the smartphone, including speech recognition and visual analysis.
Rumors about Whitechapel have been swirling for over a year, with hints about its power and whether it would operate in Chromebooks as well as smartphones. Tensor is usually the name Google gives to machine learning hardware, including speech recognition features used by Google Assistant. That fits with the way Google is pitching the new Pixel phones, with machine learning and AI powering even more of what the device can do than previous versions. Tensor will be key to enabling the devices to process images and videos more quickly and accurately, with HDR applicable to every frame. The same goes for the speech recognition and analysis capabilities of the Pixel, which will come with real-time audio translations, among other features. The security of the new chip has also been upgraded, with Titan M2, the next generation of the Titan M security chip in the more recent Pixels.
So excited to share our new custom Google Tensor chip, which has been 4 yrs in the making (📎 for scale)! Tensor builds off of our 2 decades of computing experience and it’s our biggest innovation in Pixel to date. Will be on Pixel 6 + Pixel 6 Pro in fall. https://t.co/N95X6gFxLf pic.twitter.com/wHiEJRHJwy
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) August 2, 2021
“AI is the future of our innovation work, but the problem is we’ve run into computing limitations that prevented us from fully pursuing our mission. So we set about building a technology platform built for mobile that enabled us to bring our most innovative AI and machine learning (ML) to our Pixel users. We set out to make our own System on a Chip (SoC) to power Pixel 6. And now, years later, it’s almost here,” Google senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh explained in a blog post about Tensor. “Tensor was built for how people use their phones today and how people will use them in the future. As more and more features are powered by AI and ML it’s not simply about adding more computing resources, it’s about using that ML to unlock specific experiences for our Pixel users.”
Google has always produced some of the Pixel hardware, but the shift from Qualcomm is big, even if Google restricts the change to the phones. The decision suggests Google wants to have more control over its hardware, including more direct competition with the iPhone, which has an Apple-designed chip manufactured by Samsung. Google started building its own computer chips in 2016 but has not found it worth the resources to go independent with this particular hardware until now. Making a chip is, in some ways, just another step down the road to the tech giant becoming more independent of other tech firms, especially in hardware. In the short term, at least, Intel and Qualcomm are unlikely to vanish because of Google’s move toward in-house chips. The chip may also be mainly about boosting Google’s capabilities with native services like cameras and Google Assistant. That’s certainly how Google is describing the arrangement for Pixel. The question is if this is the first wave of Google taking on more of its hardware production.
“Tensor enables us to make the Google phones we’ve always envisioned — phones that keep getting better, while tapping the most powerful parts of Google, all in a highly personalized experience,” Osterloh wrote. You’ll see this in everything from the completely revamped camera system to speech recognition and much more. So whether you’re trying to capture that family photo when your kids won’t stand still, or communicate with a relative in another language, Pixel will be there — and it will be more helpful than ever.”