Regardless of whether or not we’re all fed up of seeing the ‘Snapdragon 801’ and ‘Snapdragon 805’ names inside today’s high-end smartphones, the whole industry relies on Qualcomm’s processors. In fact, the mobile industry wouldn’t be anything like it is today if it weren’t for Qualcomm. Not only do they have a patent warchest to rival pretty much anybody, but they’ve revolutionized the way we use our devices, and what we expect from them. The big name brands like Samsung, LG, Sony and HTC all rely on Qualcomm to power their high-end devices, and with the news that the new Snapdragon 810 could face delays it could spell big trouble.
I’m pretty sure that anyone with a device from the tail-end of 2013 – like LG G2 and Nexus 5 owners – are all very happy with the performance of their devices. That’s because the Snapdragon 800 was – and still is – an excellent SoC (system-on-chip) delivering good all-round performance, decent sound and pretty impressive graphics capabilities. Throughout 2014 we’ve seen the Snapdragon 801, and in increasing quantities the Snapdragon 805 being used in high-end devices like the Nexus 6 and the Galaxy Note 4. Qualcomm’s naming scheme is hard to follow at the best of times, but the Snapdragon 801 and 805 live up to their names, they’re not that much better than last year’s Snapdragon 800. That poses a problem for the companies that have been relying on Qualcomm to go one better each and every year; people lose interest. The main reason a lot of us upgrade our devices is because we want better battery life, better performance and shinier new features. 2014 gave us little more than better battery life thanks to larger batteries, despite excellent devices for the most part. 2015 however, sees the introduction of “next-gen” (for the lack of a better term) processors in the form of the Snapdragon 810 and 808. For those interested in tech specs, the below table from AnandTech neatly compares the 800 line.
Both the Snapdragon 810 and 808 use ARM’s big.LITTLE configuration, resulting in much better battery life and thanks to the new Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 core designs, better performance, too. Sadly, the Snapdragon 810 – the processor all the big names will be after – is facing issues. According to industry sources, the Snapdragon 810 is facing problems like overheating and issues with the RAM controller (presumably due to the fresh support for LPDDR4 RAM). While we’re unable to say for certain that these reports are true, there’s one thing we do know; waiting on Qualcomm could create big problems for the likes of Samsung and co.
After a year of devices that were little more than refinements (no matter how good the refinements were) 2015 looks set to be the year that manuacturers can excite people again, and it’s also the year that anyone who signed a contract in 2013 can upgrade to something new. As such, there’s pressure on HTC, Sony, Motorola and Samsung (who’s profits have taken a sharp dip already this year) to deliver something fresh, something exciting. Without the Snapdragon 810, it’s going to be hard for people to do that. There’s word that the Snapdragon 810 might not be available in the first half of 2015 and while I personally don’t believe that, it would create some serious headaches.
Let’s take HTC and Samsung for instance, companies that both release their big sellers towards the beginning of the year, without a new processor it would leave them with tough choices to make. Samsung are somewhat unique in that their Exynos line of processors are generally quite good, but the Exynos name has never clicked with US carriers. HTC could turn to MediaTek, but then the average consumer would be asking “Who’s MediaTek?” The problem for HTC, Samsung and Sony is that launching in the first half of 2015 without a new Snapdragon CPU could hurt sales.
The average consumer (who has more interest in technology than ever before) probably hasn’t heard of Exynos or Tegra, yet they’ve heard of Snapdragon. When they come to upgrade next year and they see two devices with a ‘Snapdragon 805’ at their heart, yet a gulf in price tags then what’s going to cause them to pay extra?
If there is going to be a delay with the new Snapdragon 810 series of processors, then it’ll be interesting to see what the big name manufacturers do. I doubt many of them will turn to MediaTek, and with NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 chip being expensive it seems like Samsung would be the next port of call. If I were Samsung though, I’d be unwilling to play ball, especially if I needed all the chips I could get my hands on myself. So, it’d make sense to see manufacturers innovating elsewhere, with new designs and features created in-house. If that’s the case, then 2015 can’t come soon enough. It’s about time we had something truly different on shelves, and if we see less of the Snapdragon name as a result, then 2015 might be the year we see the mobile industry change for the better.