Google just dumped a whole bunch of news about its upcoming Pixel 6 smartphone. Maybe the company was looking to get out in front of August 11’s big Samsung event — or perhaps it’s just hoping to keep people interested in the months leading up to a significant fall announcement (and beat additional leaks to the punch).
In either case, we got the first look at the upcoming Android smartphone, including a relatively massive redesign of the camera system on the rear. The company has traded its square configuration for a big, black bar that appears to indicate an even more significant push into upgraded hardware after a couple of generations spent insisting that software/AI are the grounds on which it has chosen to fight.
More interesting, however, is the arrival of Tensor, a new custom SoC (system on a chip) that will debut on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. It’s an essential step from the company, as it looks to differentiate itself in a crowded smartphone field — something the company has admittedly struggled with in the past.
That means moving away from Qualcomm chips on these higher-end systems, following in Apple’s path of creating custom silicon. That said, the chips will be based on the same ARM architecture that Qualcomm uses to generate its otherwise ubiquitous Snapdragon chips, and Google will still rely on the San Diego company to supply components for its budget-minded A Series.
The Tensor name is a clear homage to Google’s TensorFlow ML, which has driven many of its projects. And unsurprisingly, the company sites AI/ML as foundational to the chip’s place in the forthcoming phones. The Pixel team has long pushed software-based solutions, such as computational photography, as a differentiator.
“The team that designed our silicon wanted to make Pixel even more capable. For example, with Tensor, we thought about every piece of the chip and customized it to run Google’s computational photography models,” Google writes. “For users, this means entirely new features, plus improvements to existing ones.”
Beyond the upgraded camera system, Tensor will be central to improving speech recognition and language learning. Details are understandably still thin (the full reveal is happening in the fall, mind). Still, today’s announcement seems geared toward laying out what the future looks like for a revamped Pixel team — and indeed, these sorts of focuses play into precisely what Google ought to be doing in the smartphone space: focusing on its smarts in AI and software.
In May of last year, key members of the Pixel team left Google, pointing to what looked to be a transition for the team. Hardware head Rick Osterloh was reported to have had harsh words at the time. “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,” Osterloh wrote in today’s post. “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.”