For the most part, the intense competition between Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS has largely been characterized by both companies' innovations, and when one comes up with a good idea, the other promptly borrows, replicates, or adapts the new idea to its own platform. Most of the time, this approach has manifested in software features or services that are easily copied. Hardware is a different matter, even if Android OEMs have successfully copied Touch ID with fingerprint sensors and Android's Nexus Protect.
But Google apparently now now wants to copy another aspect of Apple's hardware strategy, but it has virtually no chance of succeeding.
All that and a bag of chips
According to The Information, Google has had discussions with various chipmakers about potentially co-developing processors. Google has looked on and seen what Apple has been able to achieve with its custom chip designs, and the plethora of benefits that A-chips deliver.
Now the search giant would like to do likewise. Google reportedly wants to improve image processing and onboard memory, as well add as a motion co-processor that improves power efficiency, among others.
A-chips have leapfrogged the industry
The thing is that Apple's chip strategy started evolving in a meaningful way a long time ago, and the Mac maker's progress has been exponential in recent years. A-chips have completely taken off over the past few generations, not only in terms of sheer performance, but also more importantly in terms of sophistication and customization.
For instance, A-chips now have secure enclaves embedded directly into them, which is where Touch ID data and other sensitive data is stored. The M9 motion coprocessor is also now integrated directly into the A9. In fact, the most critical function that has yet to be integrated in cellular connectivity, which, while overdue, is incredibly difficult to execute.
Apple has invested very heavily in quietly poaching incredible chip engineers over the past few years, and its chips are even known to catch the whole industry off guard from time to time. For instance, no one had any clue that Apple had its 64-bit A7 up its sleeve in 2013. The progress that Apple has made in chip development is also precisely why every year it becomes a more viable possibility that we'll eventually see a Mac powered by an A-chip.
Alphabet can't catch up
Google will also probably have a hard time finding a chipmaker that's willing to play ball. Price competition in the Android camp is particularly intense since most devices are highly commoditized, and shrinking margins don't leave a lot of room for high-end custom chips that can deliver the types of performance Google is asking for.
On top of that, chipmakers would rather just design and sell their own chips, as opposed to collaborating with Google on design. There's not a whole lot of upside for chipmakers. The proposed move almost sounds like Google's Nexus program, where it collaborates with hardware OEMs to design phones, but for processors. Nexus devices have never been a huge part of the Android ecosystem in terms of volume, further underscoring how little upside chipmakers could even potentially enjoy. And chip development is vastly more expensive and complicated than designing phone hardware.
As it stands, there's virtually no way Google has a chance at catching up with Apple in this regard.