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Google bets on the new Tensor chip to help Pixel 6 succeed

The Tensor chip within the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro will perform machine learning tasks like translating foreign speech in real time. The phones cost $600 and $900, respectively.

Google's new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro show the company is preparing for what it hopes will be a strong comeback in an enterprise smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The latest phones, introduced this week, have several features to lure business people and consumers from rivals. They include Android 12, the most significant OS upgrade in years, a feature-rich camera system and a battery that Google claims will last 24 hours.

But the game-changing feature is the Google-designed Tensor chip, an ARM-based system on a chip that will translate messages in real time and provide more accurate voice transcription and better photo editing.

Google priced the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro below competitors to entice buyers. At $600 and $900, respectively, the starting price is significantly lower than the $800 for Apple's iPhone 13 and Samsung's Galaxy S21. Google will sell the Pixel through AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

"[The price] might induce organizations that haven't thought about them yet to give them a try," said Gartner analyst Bill Menezes. "At a low price point, you can afford to buy a few trial devices."

Nevertheless, Google faces a tough battle. According to Gartner, the Pixel accounts for only a fraction of the almost 75% share that Android devices have in the mobile phone market.

During its Pixel unveiling event this week, Google demonstrated the Tensor chip, making it possible to translate someone speaking in a foreign language in real time. A Google executive interviewing Japanese author and host Marie Kondo showed a Pixel phone converting her answers without sending any data to the cloud for processing.

Back of a green Google Pixel 6 smartphone held by a person
The Pixel 6 smartphone will feature the Google-designed Tensor chip and cost significantly less than similar devices from Apple and Samsung.

The Tensor chip adds advanced features to the Pixel's cameras. Magic Eraser lets people remove unwanted objects in photos, such as someone unexpectedly walking into the frame of a picture. Other capabilities include Face Unblur, which makes moving subjects clearer, and Real Tone, which adjusts skin tone to reflect real life.

"Mobile chips simply haven't been able to keep pace with Google research, and rather than wait for them to catch up, we decided to make one ourselves," said Monika Gupta, senior director of product management at Google. Previous Pixel models relied on Qualcomm chips.

Olivier Blanchard, an analyst at Futurum Research, disagreed with Gupta's assessment of mobile chips, saying Google decided not to use high-quality processors like Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 in the Pixel.

"The reality is that for the last few years, Google chose not to use the best system on chips that were available to them," Blanchard said.

Google follows Apple in turning to in-house chip development. Apple has designed ARM-based processors for the iPhone for years. In 2020, the company introduced the ARM-based M1 chip to replace Intel CPUs in Apple Macs, MacBooks and iPads.

Android 12 joins Tensor in bringing new capabilities to the Pixel. The OS adds a dashboard that simplifies managing applications that can access the smartphone's camera or microphone.

Also, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro will come with three years of OS upgrades and five years of security updates. Google plans to release the phones to stores on Oct. 28.

Based on preorders, consumer demand for the phones appears to be strong. The Google Store crashed on Tuesday when Google opened it for Pixel 6 pre-orders, Bloomberg reported. The culprit was too much traffic.

Maxim Tamarov is a news writer covering mobile and end-user computing. He previously wrote for The Daily News in Jacksonville, N.C., and the Sun Transcript in Winthrop, Mass. He graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @MaximTamarov.

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