Why Google Might Want to Design Chips for Android Phones

Google may be trying to exert control over the Android ecosystem. Analysts suggest reasons Google might want to design chips for Android smartphones.

Google chips for Android devices

Google is reportedly seeking to design its own smartphone chips in a bid to gain more control over what it sees as a rapidly fragmenting Android ecosystem.

Earlier this year, Google spoke with some chip manufacturers apparently to gauge their interest in developing chips based on Google's designs, The Information reported Nov. 5.

Google is worried that more fragmentation across the Android world could dilute its ability to compete with Apple at the high-end of the smartphone market, The Information noted.

In an emailed statement, a Google spokeswoman said the company does not comment on rumors and speculation.

The Information report has sparked considerable media and analyst speculation about what Google might be up to and the company's motivation for it.

Some, for instance, have speculated that Google is trying to emulate Apple's tight grip over the design of the microprocessors that power its phones and tablets. They have noted that such control is vital to Google's ability to ensure that Android-based devices have the computational juice needed to power mobile applications of the future.

Some, though, see the move—if accurate—as driven by reasons other than competition with Apple.

"Google may be looking to assert its leadership in devices, not so much because they want to sell devices [but] because they want tighter control of the platform," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

If Google were, in fact, heavily invested in the device market, the company is unlikely to have sold off Motorola. Apple dominates at the high end of the smartphone market because it can innovate on both the hardware and software fronts, Gottheil said. In contrast to Google, Apple controls everything, including servicing the devices and issuing updates, he said. "Google is probably looking for a way to compete at the high end. Whether they then license their designs to OEMs or just sell premium phones is probably still an open question at Google."

But this is not critical to Google's core business, Gottheil added. "This is definitely something that Google does not have to do." The company's competition with Apple affects only a relatively small portion of its overall business. Any competition between the two is preventive in nature, he said. "Google doesn't want Apple to have control of mobile devices, and Apple doesn't want to depend on Google for things like search and maps."

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, had a similar assessment of Google's apparent motives.

"I wouldn't say that getting into silicon design is something Google has to do," King said. However, it would be wise for the company to take the path for several reasons. Having a say in chip design will give Google an opportunity to integrate and optimize hardware and software functions and performance much better than it can now, he said. "Additionally, such efforts could and probably will positively impact other Google areas of interest, including IoT."

Meanwhile, Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor sees a similar effort by Google to exert greater control over the code that gets on Android handsets. The company is apparently concerned about the inconsistent and insecure quality of the code being installed on Android phones by device makers, Windsor wrote in a Nov. 6 report.

"We have long identified Google's failure to control the code on the devices that run its ecosystem and its inability to distribute updates as the biggest risks to future revenue growth," he noted in the report. Going forward, expect to see Google discourage others from writing code for Android handsets as it attempts to exert "total control" over the design, development, updating and distribution of the code, Windsor wrote.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.