Unlike Apple, which exerts start-to-finish control over the chips and software that go into its iPhones, Google must deal with a far more diverse hardware/software environment for Android smartphones. But the tech giant might be looking to increase its influence over the systems-on-chip (SoCs) that go into Android devices.
An article published yesterday in The Information noted that Google has recently talked with different chip-makers to give them “a road map for how it is thinking about the future of Android and what will be required to get there.”
Among the features reportedly on Google’s Android wish list are support for faster camera image processing, greater memory in the main processor and improved sensor capabilities. Such improvements could, among other things, advance Android virtual-reality applications.
Question: Are Changes Cost-Related?
IDC analyst William Stofega told us that some of the features Google is reportedly looking at are “not exactly new.” The bigger question is why Google would present these specific requests to chipmakers, he said.
“There are some good things in there, but there are also some potential trip-ups there,” he said. If, for example, the wish list stems from Google’s desire to rein in costs, that could prove problematic for an industry already struggling with razor-thin profit margins.
The large number of technology innovations that go into a single smartphone all contribute to the bottom-line cost of the device. A paper published last year, for example, found that the potential patent royalties on a hypothetical $400 smartphone could exceed $120 — nearly as much as the combined cost of all the phone’s physical components.
If Google is looking for ways to cut the cost of Android SoCs, that could rankle manufacturing partners that believe they “know best” how to produce chips, Stofega said.
No Comment from Google
We reached out to Google for a comment on The Information’s report, but a spokesperson told us, “we don’t comment on rumors or speculation.”
While Android dominates the global smartphone market, the operating system comes in many different versions. Only Google’s Android One initiative aimed at bringing smartphones to unserved markets provides Google with full control over updates and security patches, while many different versions are used by Android original equipment manufacturers around the world.
A companion piece to Thursday’s article in The Information noted that Google’s recent talks with chipmakers are “part of a push by the company to bring more uniformity to the fragmented universe of Android phones.”
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal also reported that Google was developing a version of Android specifically for virtual reality (VR). In addition to its Cardboard project — a VR platform developed for use with a fold-out cardboard mount for a mobile phone — Google is also working on a project called Project Tango that aims to offer “a new kind of spatial perception to the Android device platform by adding advanced computer vision, image processing, and special vision sensors.”
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