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Google’s secretive chip design team just lost three prominent members

Published May 20th, 2019 10:05PM EDT
iPhone Vs Pixel
Image: Alastair Grant/AP/Shutterstock

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With each passing year, Apple takes hardware performance on the iPhone to the next level, a feat made possible by the series of A-x chips the company designs in-house. Specifically, Apple’s A-x processors can be engineered and customized to run far more efficiently than what we’d otherwise see from third-parties. Indeed, the success Apple has enjoyed with its A-x processors underscores the company’s insatiable appetite for owning as much of the iPhone’s underlying hardware as possible. To this point, there are even rumblings that Apple is busy working on its own 5G modems.

All that said, Google in recent years has been angling to take a page out of Apple’s playbook and design its own chips, an initiative that reportedly began all the way back in 2017 when the search giant began hiring veteran chip designers away from Apple.

Following that, Google went on something of a hiring spree as it continued to poach chip experts from the likes of Qualcomm and Intel. More recently, Reuters a few months ago revealed that Google had already hired 16 highly-regarded chip experts and that the entire team could reach 80 people before 2020.

The assumption, all along, has been that Google wanted to use custom-designed chips on its own line of premium Pixel devices.

In light of that, a new report from The Information relays that Google’s somewhat nascent chip team recently lost some prominent members, a few of whom formerly worked for Apple.

But recently, some of those same engineers have left Google’s chip team, in a potential setback to its ambitions to build key ingredients in its own devices.

Three chip engineers—Manu Gulati, John Bruno and Vinod Chamarty—departed Google’s consumer chip team recently, The Information has learned. Mr. Gulati and Mr. Bruno joined Google from Apple, while Mr. Chamarty is a Qualcomm veteran. Google confirmed the departures, but declined to comment further.

The departures — and Gualti’s in particular — appear to be quite significant. Gulati, a former Broadcom veteran, formerly led Apple’s chip design efforts and was one of the more prominent hires Google made back in 2017. His LinkedIn profile about his tenure at Apple reads:

Lead SOC architect of several Apple iPhone and iPad SOCs; most prominently A5X, A7, A9, A11, A12, A12X. Guided these industry-leading chips from concept to production, starting with architecture specifications and culminating in silicon bringup and debug.

Google, though, is far from giving up on proprietary chip designs. Recall, the company has seen some success with less complex chip components, with the Pixel Visual Core being an obvious example.

Notably, the report adds that Google is not looking to move away from in-house chip design but may simply be focusing on components for “lower-end, simpler products, rather than [its] high-end Pixel phones and other premium devices.”

As a final point — and speaking to the benefits of a custom-designed chip — it’s worth noting the following results from a speed test which pitted the iPhone XS Max against Google’s Pixel 3XL. As we noted this past October: “The iPhone XS Max didn’t just beat Google’s new Pixel 3 XL in the speed test, it completely wiped the floor with it.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.