What processor was inside your first Android handset? If it was the HTC Dream, the first Android handset and therefore the ancestor of whatever device you might be using today, under the skin there beat a 528 MHz Qualcomm processor. And today, Qualcomm’s Chief Executive Officer announced that over one billion Android handsets have shipped running their Snapdragon chipsets. This is an impressive achievement and Qualcomm hasn’t had it all it’s own way. You see, Qualcomm joined the Open Handset Alliance in November 2007, a collective of technology companies including Google, HTC, Sony, Samsung and Texus Instruments, joined by a few carriers including Sprint and T-Mobile. And whilst Qualcomm powered the first Android devices, Texas Instruments marketed their OMAP processors, Samsung have their Exynos chipset, Nvidia market the Tegra range and MediaTek are one of the biggest Chinese processor manufacturers.
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With so much competition, what keeps manufacturers coming back to Qualcomm for their processors? Texas Instruments stepped away from mobile devices a couple of years ago, much to the chagrin of Samsung Galaxy Nexus owners (this processor uses a dual core 1.2 GHz Texas Instruments processor), Nvidia were late to the integrated modems party (more on this later), Samsung have tended to keep their Exynos in-house. The Chinese appear to be making inroads into Qualcomm’s territory but I’m quite sure that the world is big enough. But we also need to consider the Qualcomm chipset platform, branded “Snapdragon.” The original Snapdragon processor was called the Scorpion, built on a 65nm die process and clocked at up to 1 GHz. In 2011, Qualcomm renamed the Snapdragon range with a logical series from the S1 through to the S4. The higher the number, the later the generation of processor and then in 2013, Qualcomm renamed the current family to the 200 (Play), 400 (Plus), 600 (Pro) and 800 (Prime) series. The higher the number, the more powerful the processor.
Since 2011, Qualcomm have included on-die WiFi, GPS / GLONASS and Bluetooth hardware. Their processors have typically included integrated modems, too; by integrating more and more features onto the chipset, this reduces the complexity and design cost of the handset. It also reduces power consumption. Designing a smartphone is expensive business and simplifying the process will the manufacturers a lot of money. Qualcomm have also worked hard to reduce power consumption in their chipsets, such as enabling individual core clock speed and power consumption states. This means that a dual or quad core processor can run each individual core at a different clock speed and voltage, whereas competitor processors must run all cores at the same voltage.
To answer my own question, my first Android device did indeed have a Qualcomm processor under the hood but in short order I’d sampled Samsung Exynos and Nvidia Tegra processors, too.