why does it matter: Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit is usually a celebration of all things smartphones. After all, it’s the time and place where the company unveils its latest SoC design for its next generation Android smartphones. It is true that the company made Snapdragon 8 Gen 2which is expected to be the engine that powers upcoming premium phones from Samsung, Motorola, and many other vendors including Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi.
Qualcomm’s latest chip brings many impressive advancements in computing performance, image capture and processing, gaming (including hardware-based ray tracing support), audio quality, connectivity, and more. Even with this important piece of news, it was also clear from the general tone at this year’s event that Qualcomm is taking its strategy of developing a single technology roadmap for multiple markets to new levels of maturity.
The company had ads related to computers, augmented reality (augmented reality) and virtual reality (virtual reality) headsets, artificial intelligence software development tools, audio hardware, communication components, and more.
From a purely news perspective, the company’s first-ever AR headset processor, the Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1, was perhaps the most interesting and exciting announcement from the event. Qualcomm has been working on chipsets specifically for mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR) for several years — more than 60 existing products already use them — but the power, performance, and size requirements of lightweight augmented reality have been difficult to meet.
To get around some of these challenges, Qualcomm chose an initially counterintuitive but ultimately clever approach of splitting the main SoC into three different smaller components that can be deployed across a typical glasses design.
The main processing engine, built on a 4nm process, is designed to fit one glasses chassis, the FastConnect 7800 WiFi 7 component on the other, and a smaller coprocessor sitting between them atop the bridge of the nose. In the process, they reduced the size requirements for the PCB boards containing the various components by 40% and reduced the amount of wire needed to connect it all together. More importantly, the end result is a design that comes as close to what I think consumers will be willing to accept for this new type of form factor.
In addition to these physical changes, the company has also managed to reduce the average power consumption of the entire system to less than 1W, resulting in respectable battery life even with a small and lightweight battery. Best of all, thanks for an update tense heart This is part of the main processing engine of AR2 Gen 1, the new SoC supports up to 2.5x better performance for AI tasks than the previous XR2 chip.
For its part, the coprocessor supports up to 9 camera inputs and can be used for tasks such as iris recognition for authentication and duplicate rendering to speed up graphics performance by focusing on the part of the display where your eye is looking.
The main reason Qualcomm can reduce power so dramatically is that running glass relies on a connected smartphone or other more powerful device to handle most of the processing (ideally, a Snapdragon-powered smartphone or other PC, although other devices are expected to be supported too). While it would definitely be nice to have a standalone AR headset similar to more recent VR/MR products like Oculus Quest/Quest ProWe’re still many years away from this kind of design becoming possible. At the moment, this is the only kind of realistic design.
Rather than seeing this as a limitation, Qualcomm has actually used this style of distributed processing to its advantage with its FastConnect 7800 WiFi 7 chip. One of the more interesting technologies it uses is something called High-Bandwidth Multi-Link (HBS).
This is a WiFi technology that is currently unique to Qualcomm (although it is expected to be part of the final WiFi 7 standard). What it does — as long as you have the Qualcomm WiFi parts on both sides of the transmitter and receiver — is allow many high-speed links to co-exist. So, for example, a smartphone could have simultaneous WiFi 7 connections to a hotspot and a set of augmented reality glasses with this new platform. Realistically, this translates to the best possible performance, helping to ensure faster screen updates and better response times on augmented reality glasses, both of which are important to the overall experience.
As exciting as the AR2 Gen 1 may be, there are still big questions about when hardware that supports it will be available as well as how good the display will be inside the headset. Still, it appears to be a significant step forward for the AR market after years of frustration, and it shows how Qualcomm can leverage its technology in several markets and sub-sectors.
Along the same lines, the company also announced new work with Microsoft to enhance the capabilities of existing Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3-based PC parts. The company demonstrated several new capabilities in Windows 11 that delivered notable improvements in audio and video quality for video calls that take advantage of The AI processing capabilities found in these SoCs. Qualcomm has also announced the name — though without technical details — of the next generation Arm-based CPU that they’ll call Oryn and hope to ship in 2023. Unfortunately, a legal dispute with Arm could delay the launch ( or worse). However, there’s been a lot of momentum building up among the many PC builders for this new sequel, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Finally, on the audio side, Qualcomm has also focused heavily on some new audio chipsets, called Snapdragon S3 and S5, which are part of the company’s Snapdragon Sound audio platform. Designed primarily for earphones and headphones, the new chipset offers support for multiple types of spatial audio (think surround sound), as well as improved noise cancellation, head tracking, and more.
Additionally, for gaming applications, these new chips have reduced the latency, or delay, over a Bluetooth connection to 48ms. This is about half the delay of current Bluetooth devices and makes a noticeable difference in terms of responsiveness.
Speaking of Bluetooth, these new chips also support the latest Bluetooth 5.3 standards, LE Audio, and an interesting new Bluetooth-based technology called Auracast. What Auracast does is allow broadcasting from a single source to multiple Bluetooth headsets. This allows you to do things like share the sound of your smartphone or other devices with nearby friends and family or take advantage of audio streams for TVs in public places like airports, gyms, sports bars, museums, and more. The first products with this capability won’t appear until next year, but they will also take upgrades to existing transmitters to make them work. Still, it’s a great development to look forward to.
Finally, Qualcomm is clearly on its way to diversifying its products and capabilities. Mobile technology still holds a special place at the company’s heart, but as more devices get smarter and more connected and the company’s technology reach expands, the opportunities for it are also becoming more interesting.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst Technical Analysis Research, LLC A technology consulting firm providing strategic advice and market research services to the technology industry and the financial professional community. You can follow him on Twitter @employee.