Qualcomm’s annual tech summit has come and gone, and we now know everything about the next-generation Snapdragon 865, the company’s vision for 5G in 2020, and what’s next for Snapdragon compute and premium mobile XR. But beneath the hype of futuristic 5G and AI, the most interesting and important announcements from this year’s event are those at the more affordable end of the market.
The Snapdragon 765, which oddly enough wasn’t mentioned in detail during the keynotes, has the potential to shake up the market by making 5G affordable. Meanwhile, the Snapdragon 7c platform finally brings scale to Qualcomm’s connected PC portfolio, offering a serious threat to Intel’s Celeron and Pentium based products.
This isn’t to say that next year’s premium products aren’t going to be exciting. Ubiquitous 5G, blazing-fast gaming performance, and improvements to photography and machine learning will all offer tangible benefits to 2020 flagship smartphones. But not everyone is buying at that $1,000 price point. Affordability is still super important to the bulk of consumers. 2020 is the year that us budget-conscious buyers will reap many of the benefits that were reserved for the premium tier just last year.
5G becomes the norm in 2020
Integrated 5G for the Snapdragon 765 is a huge deal, if for no other reason than that it makes the 765 and 765G exclusively 5G platforms. While mid-range phones can continue to use older 4G platforms — and many affordable 2020 phones no doubt will – all of Qualcomm’s latest chipsets are pushing 5G as the default. Qualcomm is set to launch a 5G Snapdragon 600-series chipset midway through 2020, which will lower the barrier to entry even further.
This isn’t just hypothetical: major affordable smartphone brands are already scheduled to launch 5G phones next year. Nokia, Motorola, Oppo, and Xiaomi are all committed to the 765 designs in 2020, not to mention that the 765G will likely prove quite popular in China. With prices expected to fall around the $500 mark, Snapdragon 765 phones are going to be attractive purchases.
By the end of 2020, it's going to be harder to find 4G-only phones in markets with 5G.
By the end of 2020, it’s going to be harder to find 4G-only phones in markets with 5G. As well as chipsets, this shift is assisted by Qualcomm’s new modular 5G components. Qualcomm is offering a modular approach to design that covers sub-6GHz and mmWave radio components. These are compatible with both its premium and more affordable 5G chipsets.
Building 5G smartphones is now a lot easier, making it more viable for manufacturers to scale 5G across various price points. Nokia can get back into the flagship space, while Samsung could dabble in 5G mid-rangers if it wanted.
The Snapdragon 765 and 765G are just the starting gun that will lead to 5G smartphones becoming the norm. This is good news for 5G carriers looking for a return on their infrastructure investments, as it will drive new subscribers. 5G is clearly good for Qualcomm’s pocket book too, as it puts the squeeze on its chip competitors. It’s baffling that Qualcomm didn’t play up this potential even more during Tech Summit.
Connected PCs without the price tag
The Snapdragon 7c is an equally if not more disruptive chip than the 765, but this time in the laptop market. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles associated with the Snapdragon 8cx and 8c, or the performance potential. However, the anticipated $300 to $500 price point finally opens up connected PCs to the mainstream mass market.
This is good news for the budget laptop buyer, but also for Windows on Arm’s platform appeal. With the price issue solved, the last remaining annoyance with Windows on Arm is to address lingering popular apps that don’t yet have native support. More users, even in the budget segment, means more interest in app development and optimizations for Arm-based chipsets. However, Windows on Arm and the Snapdragon 7c are already perfectly suited to the web browsing, emailing, and video watching habits of budget laptops users.
To understand the value proposition, it’s worth looking at the current x86 laptops in this market. That’s either Intel’s Celeron or Pentium products or AMD’s A-series, Althon, and low-end Ryzen 3 options. These dual-core CPUs are far from snappy performers. Battery life also oftens caps out at under five hours due to the 15W TDP of many of these parts. And don’t even think about 4G LTE SIM capabilities at this price.
4G and AI at a fraction of the cost
The Snapdragon 7c is a fair enough performer at this price point, building on the Snapdragon 850 platform that satisfactorily powered early Windows on Arm laptops. But performance isn’t really the point here; the 7c offers all day battery life and always-on LTE data at a fraction of the price of today’s premium products.
Also, the Snapdragon 7c is equipped with more machine learning power than much more expensive x86 rivals. Snapdragon 7c laptops can run face recognition security, voice recognition, and other features much more efficiently. There’s a future-proofing aspect that’s hard to ignore as machine learning applications become more mainstream.
The Snapdragon 8c is a welcome addition to Qualcomm’s compute portfolio. However, it and the 8cx are a bit of a hard sell at their higher price points, where consumers are traditionally looking for more powerful workhorse PCs. Instead, it’s the affordable Snapdragon 7c that stands the best chance of having a transformative impact on the success of Windows on Arm.