As Google doubles downs on consumer hardware with the Pixel and Home, in-house chip development becomes increasingly important in order to own the entire stack and create an optimized experience. Those efforts might’ve taken a blow recently as Facebook poached an important Googler working on chips.
According to LinkedIn (via Bloomberg), Shahriar Rabii joined Google in December of 2011 as “Director of Engineering” where he “launched multiple silicon development programs.” He founded a Consumer Silicon team known as “gChips” within the company and later the hardware group’s Technology Engineering team.
In 2014, he was promoted to “Senior Director of Engineering” where he “headed and scaled silicon engineering, product/program management, production and Technology Engineering.”
Focusing on consumer hardware products, the latter group encompasses phones, laptops, Google Home, Nest, and AR/VR. This includes the Pixel Visual Core on the Pixel 2 responsible for computational photography and machine learning.
On the enterprise front, he worked on a family of custom server security chips called Titan. Purpose-built, this micro-controller establishes a hardware root of trust for both machines and peripherals on cloud infrastructure. Identifying and authenticating access at the hardware-level, it resides on a server’s controller board and is used by Google’s data centers. Meanwhile, he was also involved with the VP9 and AV1 video transcoders.
At Facebook, Rabii is now a vice president and head of silicon, reflecting the social network’s increasing chip ambition as it expands into consumer hardware, especially through virtual reality.
A report last year detailed how Google was poaching chip engineers from Apple and Qualcomm. The Pixel 2 is one of the more recent products to feature a custom chip with the Pixel Visual Core developed alongside Intel.
Many technology companies are realizing the importance of owning the entire development stack from development to manufacturing. Apple has historically done this, with Google just recently partaking in the complete manufacturing process and hardware. This advantage is very much reflected by Apple’s lead in wearables.
With the S line of chips on the Apple Watch, the company is able to offer the smallest and most powerful wearable on the market. In comparison, Wear OS and the majority of Google’s partners are stuck relying on older Qualcomm hardware that has an approximately two-year release cycle. Google and Qualcomm are only preparing to gear up for a new generation of devices later this year.
In theory, owning in-house chip development and being competent at it would allow Google to better dictate development and manufacturing, while tuning software features exactly to the custom-defined hardware. For example, Google Cloud is already taking advantage of custom-built Tensor Processing Units to offer machine learning services to third-parties.