TAIPEI – Google has asked suppliers to produce more than 7 million of its upcoming Pixel 6 smartphones – double its phone shipments last year – as the US software giant tries to take market share from Huawei Technologies and to revive a post-pandemic recovery in demand.
Sources told Nikkei Asia that Google is trying to capitalize on its position as the only US maker of smartphones running the Android operating system. The company has also asked suppliers to build more than 5 million of its low-budget Pixel 5A phones unveiled this spring, the sources said. Its total smartphone shipments last year were just 3.7 million, according to IDC.
Sources say it is the most aggressive move Google has ever taken to ramp up production of its smartphones. It also marks a sharp turnaround from last year, when the company was forced to cut production due to disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Google has told vendors since the start of the year that its position as the only U.S. maker of Android smartphones will help boost business in its country, Europe and Japan, people briefed on the matter have said. The company is specifically aiming to grab market share from Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi, the world’s three largest smartphone makers, all of which have won at Huawei’s expense.
Huawei’s smartphones and other devices ran on Google’s Android operating system before Washington sharply curtailed the Chinese tech firm’s access to U.S. technology due to national security concerns. Most of the other major smartphone makers, including Samsung, Xiaomi, and Oppo, use Android as their standard operating system.
Google has high hopes for the Pixel 6 as it is the first smartphone powered by its internal mobile processor, Tensor, a key differentiator that could set the company apart amid intensifying competition.
Before the US crackdown, Huawei relied on a similar strategy to take on Apple and Samsung, which are also designing their own mobile chips for their flagship smartphones. Google’s Tensor is produced by Samsung Electronics using its cutting-edge 5-nanometer chip production technology, sources said.
The US software and search engine giant has pursued its hardware ambitions in recent years. In 2018, it reached a $ 1.1 billion deal to acquire part of the smartphones division of Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC and its 2,000 employees engaged in research and development to strengthen its handset capabilities. Google now has a hardware team of more than 4,000 employees in Taiwan, its largest hardware development base outside of the United States.
In addition to smartphones, Google is working on a new generation of Pixelbook laptops running Google’s ChromeOS, two people familiar with the matter said. The company is also developing computer chips to eventually power its Chromebook laptops.
Production of the Pixel 6 will remain in China, after the pandemic disrupted Google’s plans to move most of its smartphone production to northern Vietnam, Nikkei Asia reported earlier. The affordable Pixel 5A is already being made in the Southeast Asian country.
Google’s accelerated production targets come as supply chains face growing challenges from the current global shortage of chips and components. Suppliers in China are also scrambling to deal with unexpected electricity suspensions.
Pixel phone production has yet to be significantly affected, although technical issues with the waterproofing technology have weighed on the phone’s assembly efficiency, sources close to the phone told Nikkei Asia. case. Most vendors are also cautious about delivering on Google’s ambitious goal of expanding its smartphone business, as production orders are subject to change based on market response, they said.
“It is likely that Google has good market opportunities in Western markets like Europe and the United States which are more sensitive to data privacy and are very concerned about the national security implications associated with electronic devices,” Joey Yen, technical analyst for research firm IDC, told Nikkei. Asia. “Google wants to bet big on its hardware because it wants to lock out more users and have direct interaction with them, as this could give it better data analytics for its future services.”
Sean Lin, analyst at Digitimes Research, described Google’s decision to use its own mobile processor rather than Qualcomm’s as a “breakthrough and adventure” for the company. “This means that Google is moving down Apple’s path of using its own processor with its own operating system,” Lin told Nikkei Asia. “It will be an adventure, because there will be a lot of integration work to do.”
This could be the time, he added, when Google’s smartphone shipments start to take off, having been limited to a few million units in recent years.
“With its own mobile processors and a new hardware ambition, we’ll see if Google promotes its hardware products in more sales channels and if the market responds positively,” Lin said.
Google said it had no comment on specific production volumes, but pointed to earlier statements describing the technical capabilities of the new Tensor mobile processor.