Google’s parent company Alphabet has closed the HTC purchase. Technically, Alphabet only bought most of HTC’s mobile division, some 2,000 engineers that have helped Google create three of the four handsets released under the Pixel brand. HTC will continue to make smartphones of its own and compete against Google’s Pixel handsets.
But Google’s deal is all about making the Pixel more like the iPhone than any other Android phone.
The obvious advantage the Pixel phones have over any other Android device is that they’re always running Google’s latest Android version. And Google is in control of releasing the updates. That’s what Apple has been doing with the iPhone since its first model.
Down the road, the Pixel will be more like the iPhone when it comes to one critical phone feature. Google plans to build its own smartphone chips, just like Apple does. Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh confirmed as much in an interview with Bloomberg.
The former Motorola exec brought in HTC engineers to help Google go after Apple in the premium smartphone business. The Pixels won’t be affordable phones like the Nexus models that preceded them, as Google seems committed to manufacturing only high-end devices.
Osterloh said that other Android manufacturers, who aren’t necessarily thrilled about Google’s Pixel push, “know why we’re doing this,” Osterloh said. “Quite honestly, Apple is doing really well in developed markets.”
To make better iPhone rivals, Google needs to replicate Apple’s hardware and software integration. And that means it’ll have to ditch mobile chips in favor of custom creations. Osterloh said that Google will keep working with Qualcomm for the foreseeable future, suggesting that the Pixel 3 may pack a Snapdragon 845 chip rather than custom Google-made silicon. The exec did not mention this year’s new Pixel phones during the interview.
So far, Google did create a custom camera chip, which is found inside the Pixel 2 phones. But it doesn’t have a system-on-a-chip that could take the A-series platform that Apple created for the iPhone and iPad.
In an announcement on the company’s blog, Osterloh teased that Google’s hardware division is working “on even better and more innovative products in the years to come,” and welcomed the more than 2,000 former HTC engineers that have just joined Google.
“As our hardware business enters its third year, we remain committed to building and investing for the long run,” the Google exec said. “Today, we start digging in with our new teammates, guided by the mission to create radically helpful experiences for people around the world, by combining the best of Google’s AI, software, and hardware.”
The HTC engineers will remain in Taipei, turning Taiwan into Google’s most significant engineering hub in the Asia-Pacific region.