In recent months, many of Qualcomm's big launches have focused on the smartphone midmarket and particularly on bolstering its position in China. But this month, it promised the biggest ever hike in performance for its Snapdragon platform at the high end, targeting premium smart-phones and other emerging mobile form factors with the need for sophisticated graphics and processing power.
The new Snapdragons, 808 and 810, will pack a punch, with LTE-Advanced, 64-bit and 4K, but will not appear in devices until early 2015, which seems to threaten Qualcomm's usual clear lead in cutting edge features (Apple and Intel already have 64-bit in premium platforms, for instance, while Qualcomm launched it first in chips for midmarket and Chinese devices). By next year, the firm will even be under some pressure in the area where it really does dominate, the modem.
It has virtually monopolized the integrated apps processor/LTE modem space so far. Full integration of baseband and CPU drives down cost and power consumption and is therefore an important competitive edge, but in the course of this year, competitors such as Intel, Nvidia and MediaTek will get in on the act.
That will drive Qualcomm to move the goalposts again by increasing performance and adding LTE-Advanced features. It will also promise customers the benefits of an LTE modem which will be into its fourth generation, and so has been deployed at scale. EVP Murthy Renduchintala said: “There‘s no way Qualcomm could have landed on the solidity and performance of its fourth generation modem without having gone through the first, second and third” – a pointed dig at firms like Intel which have only released LTE modems recently, and have not yet integrated them into SoCs.
The new Snapdragons will hit Intel in an area where Qualcomm has lagged behind its rival, 64-bit support, and will also add 4K displays. In fact, Qualcomm announced its first 64-bit processors at the end of 2013, with the 410, followed by the 610 and 615 in February, but these were targeted at midrange models, showing the reversal of the usual pattern of going after top end products first. Of course, Android is not a fully 64-bit OS yet, so being late to the party is not significant yet – except in terms of lining up against other architectures, such as x86 in high end devices which cross the mobile/PC divide, and of course the iDevices.