Qualcomm rolled out is latest top-tier Snapdragon processor on Tuesday with an integrated 5G modem, beefed up camera capabilities and an improved artificial intelligence engine that’s expected to power premium Android smartphones starting early next year.
The San Diego company announced the Snapdragon 888 during a virtual version of its annual Tech Summit. While the event caters mostly to folks who care about what’s under the hood of their smartphones, it does provide a glimpse of the features that Qualcomm thinks will resonate with consumers in the coming year.
And the Snapdragon 888 also serves as the technical foundation for additional processors from Qualcomm in 2021 targeting laptops, virtual reality headsets, smart glasses and other gadgets besides smartphones.
As expected, 5G is a good portion of the story. Qualcomm is a leading provider of 5G processors that deliver faster speeds, better reliability and minuscule transmission delays for connected devices.
Mobile operators around the globe are building 5G networks at a faster rate than they did with 4G a decade ago, said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon.
“Compared to 4G, more than five times as many commercial operators have launched 5G services,” he said. “Looking ahead to 2021, we expect between 450 million and 550 million 5G smartphones to ship around the world, reaching over 750 million by 2022.”
Besides faster speeds and better reliability, 5G is the first mobile network technology that gives mobile operators additional revenue streams beyond smartphones.
These new networks have been designed to handle a massive number of connected sensors/Internet of Things gadgets. 5G also has the potential to power home Internet, so mobile operators can begin to challenge cable companies.
And 5G allows network slicing to carve out high-speed connectivity tailored specifically to a factory or venue.
Verizon, for example, has partnered with the NFL to bring 5G to 24 league stadiums. It enables spectators to watch five different HD-quality camera angles of the game on their smartphones while in the stands, said Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer at Verizon.
“5G is the general-purpose technology that will power the fourth industrial revolution,” said Palmer during the summit. “It sounds very dramatic. But when you think about the transformative capabilities of this new wireless technology, and couple it with all the other advances in computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, massive Internet of Things on a scale that we’ve never seen before — all of these come together and can produce some amazing things.”
The Snapdragon 888 is being produced in Samsung factories using a 5-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing process. It is Qualcomm’s first chip to integrate a 5G modem with the applications, graphics and other processors onto a single semiconductor — which could improve battery life and make smartphones easier to design.
In addition, the chip emphasizes gaming, the camera and artificial intelligence, said Alex Katouzian, Qualcomm’s senior vice president and general manager for mobile, compute and infrastructure.
Mobile multiplayer gaming has become akin to social media for younger generations of smartphone users, particularly during the pandemic, said Katouzian. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Elite gaming system optimizes the chip to deliver a PC-like gaming experience on the phone, according to the company.
The chip also has improved camera capabilities. It can deliver 120 photos per second, with each photo reaching 12 megapixels resolution, said Katouzian.
Qualcomm’s homegrown artificial intelligence engine supports several things, ranging from better natural language processing for understanding voice commands to real-time speech-to-text translation, enhanced frame rendering for gaming, and automatic adjustments for light conditions while taking photos.
“The Snapdragon 888 is really the most advanced part we have done to date with all the technology that goes into it, including the modem, CPU, graphics, audio, video capability, camera and AI capability,” he said.
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