As Google Tensor makes a splash in the premium space, could MediaTek be a better partner?

As Google Tensor makes 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 this week unveiled its Dimensity 9200 SoC for high-end Android phones, which seems like a very strong choice, but it’s happening because Google is also pushing its Samsung-made Tensor chip forward. Could MediaTek prove to be a better partner for Google?

During the MediaTek Executive Summit this week, the company showcased its latest chip designs including the Dimensity 9200, a flagship SoC for Android devices to compete with Qualcomm’s “Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.” While we don’t have the devices to really see how the two compare – Qualcomm won’t be officially announced until next week – MediaTek really seems well placed to compete with the best Qualcomm has to offer, and that’s a high bar to clear! For example, Samsung has been trying to make Exynos a worthwhile alternative for years, but year after year, the best Galaxy smartphones opt for Qualcomm instead.

This is why some disagree with Google’s decision to stick with Samsung on the Tensor chip for the Pixel phones.

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

Despite all this, Google has a real impact on the high-end Android Market. An image MediaTek shared during a summit this week showed that MediaTek itself is starting to take a piece of the high-end Android space from Qualcomm. As shown below, MediaTek’s biggest growth in the global high-end Android space is in sub-$600 devices, but it’s slowly trickling down to more expensive devices as well. But what’s particularly interesting is that Google Tensor is making a similar impact in the high-end space despite only having a few devices on the market.

The data presented was provided by Counterpoint Research

The big problem here is MediaTek’s flagship ambitions. As it stands today, the company really doesn’t have it easy on the American market. The addition of mmWave to last year’s Dimensity 1050 earned Motorola a place in the upper midrange, but beyond that, MediaTek is only really seen in the United States in entry-level or midrange smartphones like the OnePlus Nord. N300 or Samsung Galaxy A13.

It’s been a rough ride for MediaTek when it comes to flagship phones in the United States.

That’s definitely a shame with these last generations. The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 and now the 9200 hold their own against Qualcomm’s best, but no one is really using them in Western markets, as the numbers clearly indicate.

What is the delay?

This week, I had the chance to speak with Yenchi Lee, deputy general manager of MediaTek’s smartphone unit, about the company’s efforts to increase its presence, especially in premium devices.

Looking at the biggest obstacles facing MediaTek, Lee pointed out how new MediaTek really is in this market, as the Dimensity 9000 was the company’s first real play in the premium segment. Right now, MediaTek is still working on becoming a real option for high-end smartphone makers. According to Lee, there is no technical hurdle, but rather just time to prove that MediaTek is a viable option – and time for MediaTek to show its commitment to the high-end.

All that said, it’s important to remember where MediaTek currently wins.

MediaTek is growing fast, but it doesn’t come from flagship smartphones. Rather, it comes in part from more affordable smartphones, but also from the smart home devices and network infrastructure we buy. Something MediaTek clearly wants based on its sentiment this week is to be a household name, something it really isn’t right now. MediaTek believes that virtually everyone has at least one device with a MediaTek chip at home, but most people don’t know its name. Being a bigger player in the high-end smartphone space is one step towards that goal, and there is a path that might make sense to go in that direction.

mediatek size 9200

The Tensor is a chip that Google wants everyone to think it makes in-house, but much of the underlying foundation comes from Samsung’s Exynos line. That doesn’t mean Google is just rebranding the Exynos layout. The Tensor has its own design and features that make it truly unique, but ultimately it all comes down to Samsung’s foundation.

However, it stands to reason that Google could outsource much of this work to another partner, and MediaTek seems like the perfect partner. Especially with the Dimensity 9200, MediaTek puts on a killer show that really competes with Qualcomm.

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

MediaTek apparently hasn’t received any requests for such a collaboration with any major Android brands, but is open to working on something similar to Tensor with any brands that might be interested. And really, it’s not even a segment for the company’s current business. Just yesterday, MediaTek revealed that it is providing the SoC for the PlayStation VR2. This is not an off-the-shelf solution, but rather a customized chip that MediaTek is creating with Sony.

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

The potential of MediaTek working on such a project would also have a big impact on both sides. Looking at Tensor as an example, Google phones could certainly benefit from the sheer performance boost that MediaTek would provide over the latest Samsungs. Furthermore, MediaTek’s use of TSMC foundries would certainly have a big impact on Tensor’s power efficiency, something Google’s chip has struggled with for two generations so far. Just look at what the move from Samsung to TSMC did for Qualcomm. MediaTek would then benefit from showing off what it can do with chips in the hands of customers in multiple regions, especially the United States.

But in reality, Google is not going to transition just because of power. Just recently, Google said it was “absolutely comfortable” with Tensor not leading in performance metrics and instead focusing on vertical integration that benefits the end product in other ways. And frankly, that’s a sentiment we can get behind. But still, benchmarks aside, Google seems to be a lot could benefit from the partnership with MediaTek. It’s an option that certainly seems tempting.

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