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Qualcomm is expanding its reach beyond the smartphone

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Qualcomm (Nasdaq:QCOM) The annual Snapdragon Summit event, which is back in Maui this year, is usually a celebration of all things smartphones. It’s the time and place, after all, as the company unveils its latest SOC (System on a Chip) design for its next generation of chipsets premium smartphones.

True, the company introduced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which is expected to be the engine that powers Samsung’s upcoming premium phones (OTCPK: SSNLF), Motorola (MSI) and several major Chinese vendors including Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi (OTCPK: XIACF), among others. The latest chip brings many impressive advancements in computing performance, image capture and processing, gaming (including support for hardware-based ray tracing), sound quality, connectivity, and more.

Even with this important piece of smartphone 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.

In fact, from a purely technical news perspective, the company’s first-ever AR headset-specific 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 overcome some of these challenges, Qualcomm chose an initially counterintuitive but ultimately clever approach of breaking down 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 in one glasses chassis, the FastConnect 7800 WiFi7 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 crucial 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 to an updated Tensor core that’s part of the AR2 Gen 1’s main processing engine, the new SOC supports up to 2.5 times better performance for AI tasks than the company’s 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 certainly be nice to have a standalone AR headset similar to modern VR/MR products like the Oculus Quest/Quest Pro, we’re still many years away from this type of design being 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 a new business with Microsoft (MSFT) on improving the capabilities of existing ARM PC parts based on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. In particular, 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 existing AI processing capabilities 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 ½ the delay of existing 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 the way to diversify its products and capabilities. Smartphones and related technologies clearly hold a special place at the company’s heart, but as devices get smarter and more connected and the company’s technological reach expands, the opportunities for them are also becoming more interesting.

Disclaimer: Some of the author’s clients are vendors in the technology industry.

disclosure: no one.

source: author

Editor’s note: The bullet summary for this article was selected by a search for Alpha Editors.

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