Performance a commodity, so Qualcomm turns elsewhere with Snapdragon 810

Qualcomm recently unveiled the Snapdragon 810. The reason to care is that Qualcomm’s chips are what’s powering all the mid to high end Android phones — if you have an Android phone, chances are it has a Snapdragon variant. The Snapdragon 810 will be the flagship chipset for phones early next year; the Samsung Galaxy S6, the new HTC One, etc. will all likely have it.

It’s a good sign is that Qualcomm did not spend much time talking up performance improvements. Today’s top phones are already roughly on par with laptops from 2010 in terms of power, and it’s questionable whether more is needed. Phones simply don’t need laptop-level performance — it’s not like you’re going to need CAD on your phone.

Just as netbooks and cheap laptops invaded PCs, so too will low cost phones that are “good enough.” We reviewed one just a few weeks ago (see the Moto G review here) and found it impressive for the price.

In the first few years of mobile, paying premium was worth it because the base experience on cheap phones wasn’t good enough. Buying the iPhone 3GS instead of an iPhone 3G made a big difference for example; whereas you’ll be hard pressed to tell the power difference between an iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S.

We are on the verge of passing the point where the extra dollar to get a fraction more power isn’t worth the cost. We might be a year or two away before the bulk of the market will prefer low cost phones, even on contract; with only a niche buying the best stuff.

For phone manufacturers and Qualcomm to avoid getting commoditized — to the Huaweis and MediaTeks of the industry — they must demonstrate value beyond faster CPU and GPU cycles, because not many will notice and even fewer would be willing to pay.

One such innovation is building in chip support for optical zoom. Qualcomm demonstrated the implementation from Corephotonics, which uses a dual lens camera and algorithms to achieve 3x zoom.

What’s the big deal about optical zoom? Currently, when you use your camera to zoom in and take a photo, you’re not using the camera’s full resolution to take that photo. In fact, what you’re really doing is taking the photo as if you hadn’t zoomed, and then the software simply crops just the part that you wanted.

It’s called digital zoom, and as you can see, it’s not really zoom at all. Cropping means you lose detail, and your resulting photo becomes low resolution.

Optical zoom means you can use the camera’s full resolution to capture an image that’s further away.

It’s features like this that consumers will care about and spend money on.

5 thoughts on “Performance a commodity, so Qualcomm turns elsewhere with Snapdragon 810

  1. I would argue that the primary reason why current mid-tier phones seem “good enough” is because of the lack of powerful mobile apps that really tax the hardware and can showcase what one can really do on a mobile device. I am talking about desktop-class apps. Where’s the mobile equivalent of productivity apps like photoshop (the iPad recently got pixelmator), podcast-editing software (it can be done on the iPhone, but with a lot of tedious workarounds), logic cut and the like? I agree that most will not need CAD performance on their phones or tablets. But some will, and I believe they will pay any price for the right software.

    Granted, most consumers likely use their smartphones only for basic tasks like whatsapp and Facebook, but I feel this is a chicken-and-egg scenario. If you don’t build to apps to showcase the possibilities, people are not going to think that this is possible or even viable, and therefore not want to demand such specs on their phones. Someone has to take the first step, IMO.

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      1. I would like to believe it’s because developers don’t yet know how to redesign a desktop app to a smartphone UI. For example, there is iMovie for the iPhone. I hardly ever use it, but the few times I did, it was handy enough to have. The smaller screen of my then iPhone 4s was secondary to the convenience of being able to make simple edits to a video that I had just taken, at an adventure camp with my pupils (I am a teacher here) and share it all from my phone.

        The challenge would be making it touchscreen friendly, as well as knowing which features to leave out (to prevent the app from becoming too bloated and cumbersome).

        Then recently, Readdle just released PDF Office, an iPad app which now lets users edit pdfs and create fillable PDF forms. This is desktop-class software which was previously available only on PCs and which used to cost a hefty sum.

        It’s possibly also because of expectations. Many people don’t think they can or should do such stuff on their smartphones, and so don’t demand it.

        As a result, developers might not bother creating such software because they don’t believe there’s a viable market for it. Someone has to make the first move, and I feel the developers are in the best position to show that this is indeed very much possible.

        Apple already has 64-but processors, and qualcomm will be releasing theirs next year. I envision a future where smartphones and tablets have 64-bit processors and 4gb of ram (in the very least), and I think it’s exciting to dream of the tasks which will be enabled on these devices, rather than selling ourselves short.

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        1. I’m also looking forward to that future, and agree we’ll get there. However, I expect the smartphone market to resemble the laptop PC market: a 10-15% niche will be capable of handling complex apps but the vast majority will choose cheap, “good enough” phones. As you pointed out, even those are already capable of handling iMovie!

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  2. So that mean we should again look for Ubuntu Touch Project , that enable the Users with high end phones to use it as portable docking-able computer

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