In the PC world you either have a computer with an Intel processor, or one with an AMD processor. Even Macs relied on Intel until very recently, and on mobile phones, the panorama, although more varied, there are not so many options. Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, Huawei and Apple share most of the cake with their ARM mics.
Everything looks to change in the future. Reveals it that Pixel 6 that will hit the market with a Google-designed SoC according to the latest rumors. Apple has already made the leap to its M1 chips in its PCs and laptops, and the ARM revolution makes us witness a model change in which manufacturers will design their microphones and control their launch cycles much more. There will be more competition than ever, it seems, and that’s good news for us consumers.
Qualcomm watch out: Google is coming
Google has been working on its own chips for a long time. In October 2016 they opened the door to design their own processors for the Pixel family mobiles – the rumors of that intention were even earlier – but during all these years there has been hardly any news about it.
The company did begin to make some efforts in this area with the introduction in October 2017 of its Pixel Visual Core, key to the camera of those fantastic Pixel 2 those who did not need more than a single objective to expose the majority of mobile phones on the market in the photographic section.
The effort to develop its own mobile microprocessors and SoCs intensified in mid-2017 with the signing of Manu Gulati, who had previously worked for several years in the development of SoCs for Apple mobiles.
All that work could finally be crystallized this coming fall in the introduction of the Pixel 6. Various sources indicate that this mobile will feature the GS101 SoC, codenamed Whitechapel. The data indicates that the chip (GS apparently is the acronym for ‘Google Silicon’) has been developed in collaboration with Samsung, and would be aimed at both mobile phones and even future Chromebooks of the firm.
Long live diversity
The current market situation in the field of semiconductors had us tied to the big manufacturers. In Intel and AMD PCs almost all the cake is shared, while in mobiles things are somewhat more animated.
In fact, the latest data from Counterpoint reveals how we have six major players here, although two are especially relevant because MediaTek (which gains by volume thanks to incoming mobiles) and Qualcomm share most of the market: 6 out of 10 mobile phones currently sold in the world have a chip from one of these two manufacturers.
Behind are Huawei (with HiSilicon and its Kirin), Samsung (Exynos) and Apple, while a somewhat more unknown Chinese firm, Unisoc, close this particular ranking.
what do they all have in common? That make use of the ARM architecture for mobiles. The British firm handles the basic design of the cores and microarchitecture, but licenses those designs for manufacturers to then add their own innovations to the basic recipe.
Imagining a mobile and a PC with a processor designed by Google or Microsoft
Apple has been the first to show that this approach is not only valid for mobile phones, but also for laptops and desktops, and now the rumors are mounting: Microsoft aims to go down that path (He already made his first steps with the SQ2) and a few months ago it was learned that they prepare their own ARM SoCs both for servers – Google is also in that battle – and even for their Surface.
The Surface Pro X that Microsoft released in 2020 features an SoC co-designed by Microsoft and Samsung.
Google and that potential Pixel 6 with the GS101 are another proof that manufacturers want to join this trend. If you have your own chip, you avoid depending on a third party: you gain control and potentially a lot of money, although logically you end up assuming a task that you previously delegated to those third parties who until now fulfilled (quite well) that function.
The ambition of these companies in fact goes beyond mobile, and as seen both Google and Microsoft seem to point to a future in which servers, laptops and desktops are governed by ARM microphones designed by them even though they are manufactured by the TSMC of the world.
The semiconductor giants are looking at the wolf’s ears and starting to react. Qualcomm recently acquired Nuvia and will work on ARM chips for ultraportables, but the really ambitious change is raised by Intel, which has changed its CEO and strategy.
The firm has reached an agreement with TSMC for its future 5 and 3 nm chips and plans to create two new semiconductor factories that they not only serve to produce their own designs, but also those of third parties that contract that capacity and that work with ARM designs and even RISC-V.
This news reveals the great movement that is taking place in the semiconductor industry. With NVIDIA closing the difficult acquisition of ARM it seems clear that a lot could change in the next 3-5 years, and imagine mobiles, laptops and PCs governed by Google or Microsoft ARM SoCs (and those who come after) is now perfectly possible.