Google made a big deal about the Pixel 2 phones a few weeks ago, but it forgot to unveil a feature that’s not available on any other device, including Apple’s recent iPhone 8 and iPhone X.
It’s unclear why Google kept its new “Pixel Visual Core” a secret until Tuesday. Maybe Google was afraid Pixel 2 teardowns would discover the custom chip Google built for the sole purpose of enhancing the phone’s camera. Or maybe Google just didn’t want to field questions when people found out that the chip currently doesn’t work.
The Pixel Visual Core is an octa-core system-on-a-chip (SoC) that joins the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, which runs the show. However, Google’s proprietary chip only handles photography, and it’s supposedly faster and more efficient than the main chip powering the phone:
With eight Google-designed custom cores, each with 512 arithmetic logic units (ALUs), the IPU delivers raw performance of more than 3 trillion operations per second on a mobile power budget. Using Pixel Visual Core, HDR+ can run 5x faster and at less than one-tenth the energy than running on the application processor (AP).
The Pixel 2 already received high praises for its cameras, and that’s before the Pixel Visual Core came into play. That’s right, the chip doesn’t actually work right now, and it won’t do a single thing until an upcoming software update brings it to life. Yes, it’s unfortunate. But others in the business have shipped features in beta or activated them well after a brand new device started shipping, so it’s not unprecedented. The difference, however, is that companies like Apple and Samsung didn’t keep those features secret.
Unlike that other Pixel 2 secret that you can’t really put to good use, this new camera chip seems to be far more exciting. Google plans to let third-party apps make use of the Pixel Visual Core in the future.
HDR+ will be the first application to run on Pixel Visual Core. Notably, because Pixel Visual Core is programmable, we’re already preparing the next set of applications.
The chip will be activated once Android Oreo 8.1 is released in the coming weeks.