Qualcomm Unveils Snapdragon 888 for 5G Android phones

Article By : Jim McGregor

Qualcomm kicked off its Snapdragon Tech Summit by introducing the company’s latest mobile SoC for premium 5G smartphones – the Snapdragon 888...

Qualcomm kicked off its highly anticipated and typically very well attended Snapdragon Tech Summit Tuesday morning, December 1st. While past Snapdragon Tech Summits have been about the promise of 5G, this one was more about the progress of 5G and a brief introduction to the company’s latest mobile SoC for premium 5G smartphones – the Snapdragon 888.

Over the past few years, the event had been held in Maui, Hawaii, a key reason for the anticipation and high attendance by press and analysts. Like all other tech events this year, The Snapdragon Tech Summit was forced to go virtual due to the pandemic and travel restrictions to Hawaii. While the company did its best to provide a Hawaii-like atmosphere, it was just not the same.

As expected, the company focused on the on-going rollout of 5G technology. Qualcomm expects more than 175 million 5G phones to ship in 2020, more than 450 million in 2021, and more than 750 million in 2022, marking the fastest ramp of any wireless generation to date. This is not surprising as 5G is ramping in 40 countries by more than 100 operators. With a focus on fixed wireless and industrial applications, as well as consumer wireless, 5G has become a competitive mantra for many countries.

Verizon’s Chief Product Officer, Nicola Palmer, called 5G the enabler for the 4th industrial revolution with expectations that 5G will reach scale in 2021. Verizon will have rolled out 5G services to 60 cities and a number of venues, such as stadiums and airports, by the end of 2020. NTT DoCoMo also touted the value and innovation driven by 5G. Beyond the carriers, Sony and OnePlus touted the value to mobile gaming with their partnerships with Activision and Epic Games, respectively; and AI startup Hugging Face highlighted its efforts to democratize AI by bringing natural language processing (NLP) to all consumers and applications, including edge and mobile devices. And of course, there is the promise of how 5G will enable future advancements, such as autonomous vehicles, and lead to new businesses we can’t imagine today.

Disaggregation of the smartphone
Qualcomm also took the opportunity to promote Augmented Reality (AR) glasses as the “next step major step in mobile.” This is what we at Tirias Research and others in the industry believe will be an evolution or disaggregation of the smartphone as we know it. We are witnessing that the smartphone, when combined with other devices, such as smartwatches, earbuds, and other wearable and complimentary platforms will eventually change from the all-in-one compute platform to the personal AI hub.

The new 888 SoC
Beyond the promise of the future and the worldwide 5G deployment, the key highlight of the keynote session was the new Snapdragon 888 teaser. Key focal points for the new chipset include improving the camera capabilities, gaming performance, and AI experience. While the company did not provide details of the chip on day one of this event (Tuesday), it did indicate that the new 888 SoC will feature the X60 RF modem (modem + RF solution); an enhanced 6th generation AI engine with a new Hexagon processor, a new sensing hub, and 26 TOPS of overall performance; and a new Adreno GPU with more performance over the previous generation. The biggest tease, however, was the camera where the company indicated that it is “tripling down” to achieve a 35% performance boost to 2.7GigaPixel/sec performance which is capable of 120 photos per second at 12MP resolution. Details of the new chip are expected at the second day pf the event.

A slew of Chinese OEMs adopt 888
Xiaomi was the first OEM to announce at the event that it will be using the Snapdragon 888 in its next generation premium smartphone. According to Qualcomm, however, other smartphone vendors including ASUS, Black Shark, LG, Meizu, Motorola, Nubia, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Sharp, Vivo, and ZTE will all be using the 888 in upcoming phones as well.

The name of the chipset was a bit of a surprise breaking from the 835, 845, 855, 865 naming conventions of previous generations. But the 888 name represents the best of the “8-series” that Qualcomm has used to represent its premium chipsets. It also symbolizes good luck in the Chinese culture during a year that has been full of bad luck due to the pandemic, but good fortune for the tech industry, especially with the rollout of 5G.

Alex Katouzian, senior vice president, general manager of Mobile, Compute and Infrastructure, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Tirias Research will provide more detail on the Snapdragon 888 as it is released, as well as a comparison to the other premium chipsets that are announced or anticipated shortly from the other leading chipset and smartphone vendors.

— Jim McGregor is principal analyst at Tirias Research

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