With Google Tensor making a splash in the premium space, could MediaTek be a better partner?

With Google Tensor making a splash in the premium space, could MediaTek be a better partner?

Qualcomm has always dominated the high-end smartphone space, but that is slowly changing. MediaTek unveiled its Dimensity 9200 SoC for high-end Android phones this week, which sounds like a very solid option, but it’s happening because Google is also advancing its Samsung-produced Tensor chip. Could MediaTek turn out to be Google’s best partner?

At the MediaTek Executive Summit this week, the company showcased its latest chip designs, including the Dimensity 9200, a flagship SoC for Android devices that is expected to compete with Qualcomm’s “Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.” While we don’t have any devices to see how the two compare – Qualcomm won’t even be officially announced until next week – it really does seem like MediaTek is well positioned to compete with the best that Qualcomm has to offer, and that’s a high bar to cross! Samsung, for example, has been trying for years to make Exynos a viable alternative, but year after year the best Galaxy smartphones are opting for Qualcomm instead.

That’s why some have taken issue with Google’s choice to stick with Samsung on its Tensor chip for Pixel phones.

And really, it’s hard to disagree with that. The first generation of Tensor was a solid foundation but a hell of a mess compared to the alternatives. Network issues, low power efficiency, and heat issues have put a sour taste in the mouths of many Pixel 6 buyers. Google seems to have fixed a lot of these issues in Tensor G2, but it’s clear that it there is still a gap. That said, it’s a gap that Google seems fine with. The company recently said it was “perfectly comfortable” with Pixel phones lagging behind in overall performance.

Despite all this, Google is having a real impact on the high-end Android market. A slide MediaTek shared at the summit this week showed MediaTek starting to take over some of the high-end Android space from Qualcomm on its own. As shown below, MediaTek’s strongest growth in the global high-end Android space is in devices under $600, but it’s also impacting more expensive devices. But what’s particularly interesting is that Google Tensor has a similar impact on the high-end space, despite there being only a handful of devices on the market.

sales volume of mediatek tensor chips
Data shown was provided by Counterpoint Research

Here’s the big deal for MediaTek’s flagship ambitions. As things stand, the company doesn’t really have easy access to the US market. The addition of mmWave in last year’s Dimensity 1050 earned Motorola a spot in the upper mid-range, but other than that MediaTek is only really seen in entry-level or mid-range smartphones. range in the United States, such as the OnePlus Nord. N300 or the Samsung Galaxy A13.

When it comes to flagship phones in the US, it’s been a tough road for MediaTek.

It is certainly a shame with these recent generations. The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 and now the 9200 hold their own against Qualcomm’s best, but nobody really uses them in Western markets, as the numbers clearly show.

What is the heist?

I had the chance to speak this week with Yenchi Lee, deputy general manager of MediaTek’s smartphone chip unit, about the company’s efforts to increase its presence in high-end devices in particular.

Looking at the biggest hurdles MediaTek faces, Lee pointed out how truly new MediaTek is in this market, as Dimensity 9000 was the company’s first real game in the premium segment. At present, MediaTek is still striving to establish itself as a real option for high-end smartphone manufacturers. According to Lee, there is no technical obstacle, just the time needed to prove that MediaTek is a viable choice – and time for MediaTek to show its commitment to high end.

That said, it’s important to remember where MediaTek is currently winning.

MediaTek is growing fast, but it’s not coming from flagship smartphones. Rather, it comes partly from more affordable smartphones, but also from the smart home devices and network infrastructure we buy. Something MediaTek clearly wants based on its feelings this week is to be a household name, which it really isn’t right now. MediaTek is convinced that almost everyone has at least one device in their home with a MediaTek chip, but most people don’t know the name. Being a bigger player in the high-end smartphone space is a step towards that goal, and there’s a path that could make a lot of sense in that direction.

mediatek dimension 9200

Tensor is a chip that Google wants everyone to think is making itself, but much of the underlying base comes from Samsung’s Exynos line. That’s not to say that Google just renames an Exynos layout. Tensor has a custom design and custom elements that make it truly unique, but it all ultimately ties back to Samsung’s foundation.

It stands to reason, however, that Google could outsource much of this work to another partner, and MediaTek seems like a perfect match. Especially with the Dimensity 9200, MediaTek puts up a killer demo, and one that’s genuinely competitive with Qualcomm.

But the real question – is MediaTek even ready for this sort of thing? According to Lee, yes.

MediaTek apparently hasn’t received any requests to work on such a collaboration with major Android brands, but it’s open to working on something like Tensor with any brands that might be interested. And really, that’s not even a stretch for the company’s existing business. Just yesterday MediaTek revealed that it is supplying the SoC for the PlayStation VR2. It’s not an off-the-shelf solution, but rather a custom chip that MediaTek is building with Sony.

As for Tensor itself, it looks like MediaTek is up for the challenge should Google ever switch partners from Samsung. Lee said MediaTek would be willing to discuss Tensor if Google was looking.

MediaTek’s potential to work on such a project would also have great effects on both sides. If we take Tensor as an example, Google’s phones could definitely benefit from the sheer power boost that MediaTek would provide over Samsung’s latest. On top of that, MediaTek’s use of TSMC foundries would surely have a major impact on Tensor’s power efficiency, something Google’s chip has struggled with a lot in its two generations so far. Look at what Samsung’s move to TSMC has done for Qualcomm. MediaTek would then benefit from being able to show what it is capable of with chips in the hands of customers in more regions, and especially in the United States.

But realistically, Google is not going to change just for power. Just recently, Google said it was “perfectly comfortable” with Tensor not leading the pack on performance criteria, instead focusing on vertical integration that benefits the end product in other ways. . And frankly, it’s a sentiment we can support. But still, apart from the benchmarks, there seems to be a lot of Google could benefit from a partnership with MediaTek. It’s a possibility that certainly sounds enticing.

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