One of Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) key advantages when it comes to its iOS devices, is the fact that it designs its own chips.
Rather than use the same CPUs as everyone else, the iPhone, iPad and other devices use Apple AX chips with customized capabilities. Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google is now getting in that game as well, aiming to give its Pixel phone a competitive boost.
And to get a head start on its efforts, Google just hired a key Apple chip architect to become its own lead SOC architect.
Apple Chip Architect Jumps Ship to Google
Variety first reported the news that Manu Gulati has been lured away from his role of “spearheading” Apple AX chip design to to take on the lead position for Google’s new custom chip department. According to his Linkedin profile, the Apple chip architect held that position for close to eight years.
The profile also confirms that he jumped ship take on a leadership role in chip design at Google. Since his move, Google has also begun posting positions related to SOC (system on a chip) design and architecture, signalling the ramping up of its custom chip team.
Apple AX Chips Prove the Value of Customization
In the Android world, most smartphones and tablets are powered by processors from Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM). Because of size, power and heat limitations, these are SOC designs — with the CPU, graphics and other key functions all baked into a single chip. And with everyone using the same chip, each of these devices has the same core capabilities.
Apple chose a different route. After the first several iPhone models, the company decided to invest in its own SOC design. Using technology licensed from Arm Holdings, the company began designing its own custom Apple AX chips in 2010. They powered the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and also power new devices like the HomePod smart speaker.
Apple’s custom chips let the company closely integrate the operating system and hardware, and design the processor to boost key features. For example, during the WWDC 2017 keynote, Apple claimed the iPhone was able to recognize images six times faster than Google’s Pixel phone. That’s Apple AX customization at work, letting the company integrate support for key features it wants to focus on right in the silicon, instead of leaving it to much slower software to do the work.
And as Variety points out, Apple chip architect Manu Gulati has been there since the start of the very first Apple AX chips. He began with AAPL in 2009, and the AX made its first appearance in 2010. In addition, Variety reports his name is listed as one of the inventors on 15 chip-related Apple patents.
In other words, Google could hardly have picked a more qualified person to head up its own SOC than this Apple chip architect. And his departure is clearly not good news for AAPL stock.
Google’s Pixel Phone has premium hardware — but so do dozens of other Android smartphones. It runs the latest version of Android, but when new competing Android smartphones come out, they do too. And in terms of speed, processing power and graphics, they’re all using the same Qualcomm chips. Or most of them are — a few manufacturers have begun dabbling with custom designed chips of their own.
Google’s hardware chief spoke to Bloomberg in 2016, after the release of the Pixel phone. He described a Google that developed its hardware devices — smartphones, smart speakers and other devices — together, for tighter integration and shared strategic focus. And he spoke about Google’s goal of controlling not just the software, but also designing its own SOC silicon in-house. Like Apple …
With the hiring of Apple chip architect Manu Gulati, Google has taken another big step toward being more like Apple Inc.
Future generations of its Pixel phone will have a significant advantage over the competition because Android and the customized SOC can be designed together to provide unique capabilities and higher performance on key features. And it dealt Apple a blow at the same time.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.