On Wednesday, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) was making headlines, but this time the news was good. Instead of another chapter in the ongoing legal spat with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) that’s knocked 25% off QCOM stock this year, the company announced its new flagship mobile processor: the Snapdragon 855. It’s a powerhouse chip, designed for 5G and AI, with big performance and connectivity gains.
QCOM Announces Snapdragon 855
At the Snapdragon Tech Summit conference on Wednesday, Qualcomm officially took the wraps off its new flagship processor for mobile devices. The Snapdragon 855 was touted as an AI powerhouse with QCOM describing the new processor as being:
“The premier mobile platform for a new decade of 5G, AI, and XR”
Not up to speed on the latest tech acronyms? 5G is the forthcoming replacement for 4G LTE that promises cellular wireless speeds up to 20 time faster, AI is the artificial intelligence that’s used for everything from text translation to real-time camera processing, and XR is the combination of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in video and games.
In other words, Qualcomm is positioning the Snapdragon 855 as being the mobile processor for all the buzz-worthy technology expected in the next crop of Android smartphones. Not iPhones, since Apple makes its own processors. However, like Apple’s latest mobile CPU the A12 Bionic, the Snapdragon 855 moves to a 7nm process.
What Does All This Translate To In Actual Capabilities?
Qualcomm threw a lot of acronyms out there when describing the Snapdragon 855, and even with the definitions it’s not necessarily clear what the big wins are. So here’s a quick overview of some of the key features of the new processor.
5G is building tons of buzz, but carriers are still experimenting with 5G technology and have yet to actually roll it out. 5G isn’t expected to be mainstream in the U.S. until 2020, although some carriers will be offering areas of coverage before then. And as pointed out by The Verge, the Snapdragon 855 doesn’t actually have 5G built-in, that’s an optional, added cost upgrade for smartphone manufacturers. However, the new processor is the first with 2Gbps support on LTE, and the first with Wi-Fi 6 support (up to 10Gbps). So smartphones equipped with this processor will see fewer wireless speed bumps — both cellular and Wi-Fi — compared to previous generations, even without 5G.
QCOM says the AI engine on its new processor is three times faster than before. AI is used extensively by smartphone manufacturers, and often in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. For example, AI can eliminate background noise in phone conversations and Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google division makes extensive use of AI in the camera on its Pixel smartphones. Having AI processing on the device instead of in the cloud makes it faster, easier for developers to access and improves security. Naturally, improved AI performance will also benefit personal assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.
XR, AR and VR are technologies that continue to defy attempts to take them mainstream. But the Snapdragon 855 will be a strong platform for content developers, offering impressive capabilities like support for 8K VR at 120 frames per second.
Other key features of the Snapdragon 855 include overall performance gains over previous generations (the CPU is up to 45% faster and graphics performance gets a 20% boost), an improved image sensor for better photo quality while using less battery, HDR 10+ and Dolby Vision HDR, hardware accelerated video playback for additional battery savings, adaptive Bluetooth for optimized wireless media streaming, support for under-screen fingerprint scanning, and QuickCharge+ technology that QCOM says can charge a smartphone battery from empty to 50% in 15 minutes.
When Will We See Smartphones With the Snapdragon 855?
The short answer is 2019. Exactly when they will start launching isn’t certain at this point, but China’s OnePlus announced onstage that it will be one of the first — if not the first (there was apparently a translation issue in that claim) — to offer a smartphone powered by the Snapdragon 855. If this new processor lives up to QCOM’s claims, maybe 2019 will see the company’s fortunes begin to turn around again after a pretty terrible 2018.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.