Report: Google may take Apple approach with custom smartphone chips for Android

Surely, Nexus phones could benefit from new, unique Android features but how will Google's hardware partners that use their own chip designs react?

Could Google follow Apple into the mobile processor design business?

Yes, says The Information, as sources tell the outlet Google has already had discussions with various chip makers and plans to use the custom chips to bring new features to Android devices.

One of the most obvious beneficiaries of such an approach would be Google's own Nexus device line. That's where Google currently has the most control over both the hardware and the software.

While the company outsources some design and all of the production to its Android hardware partners, Nexus phones and tablets run a completely stock version of Android software and Google directly pushes software updates to the devices.

Adding a custom chip -- and features that can take advantage of it -- could help the Nexus line further stand out from the crowd of Android options. Of course, all Android phones and tablets could benefit from a custom design if Google made it available to its partners.

One of the first things I'd hope Google includes in a chip design is more security at the hardware level; something BlackBerry has attempted to do with the Priv: See our Priv review here.

The Information suggests that a custom chip would help Google push both augmented and virtual reality forward in future devices.

That makes sense given the power and sensor data needed for those activities. Perhaps some of the 3D mapping and sensor data processing is handled on a dedicated core or chip in Google's vision of mobile silicon. Google is likely learning about that through it's Project Tango effort.

While custom chips from Google may sound groundbreaking for Android, this wouldn't be the first time it happened.

When Motorola debuted the first Moto X in 2013, it worked with Qualcomm to tweak its Snapdragon S4 Pro chip by adding dedicated digital signal and sensor processors. That allowed the Moto X to have the "always listening" function for voice commands, for example, and added then-unique features found in the Moto Assist app.

If Google does indeed take this approach to design custom processors for Android, I'm wondering how some of its Android partners will react, given that they already use their own designs. Samsung's Exynos and the new Huawei Kirin 950 chip are perfect examples.

My guess is that whatever Google adds to a base chip design will quickly get replicated by other hardware partners but perhaps not quickly enough to offer similar functions at the same time. A game of "catch-up" could ensue which may hurt sales of devices that don't use the Google chips; something that's surely not going to sit well with Google's key partners.