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.