Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is the leading vendor of integrated applications processors and modems for smartphones. Although the company's highest-end products tend to get the bulk of the attention from the press and consumers alike, the reality is that most smartphones aren't what Qualcomm refers to as "premium-tier" phones.
Qualcomm's chip strategy is good because it doesn't focus on just one segment of the smartphone market. It builds chips with appropriate feature sets and cost structures for each "tier" of the smartphone market, ranging from the very lowest-end devices to the flashiest flagship devices.
Last month, at the Mobile World Congress trade event back in June, Qualcomm announced a new platform for what the company terms the "mid-tier" of the smartphone market. Here are three things Qualcomm wants you to know about the Snapdragon 450.
Better manufacturing tech, higher performance
Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 450 is manufactured in a 14-nanometer chip-manufacturing technology -- a first for the company's 400-tier of smartphone chips. Qualcomm's prior-generation 400-tier smartphone processor, the Snapdragon 435, was manufactured in a "28 nm LP" technology. If I'm not mistaken, "LP" in this case is in reference to the lower-end 28-nanometer technologies that don't include some of the performance- and efficiency-boosting technologies such as high-K metal gates.
The jump from 28-nanometer LP to 14-nanometer LPP should be quite huge for power efficiency and performance. And in this respect, Qualcomm doesn't disappoint. Qualcomm quotes up to a four-hour improvement in battery life over the Snapdragon 435, as well as up to 25% faster CPU and graphics performance -- although it's not clear if these claims are simultaneous or mutually exclusive.
Major camera improvements
The camera capabilities of a smartphone are heavily driven by a dedicated camera processor inside the applications processor, known as the image signal processor (ISP). The more advanced the ISP in a phone, the more sophisticated the camera subsystem in a smartphone can be.
Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 450 supports up to a single 21-megapixel camera, same as the prior Snapdragon 435, as well as a dual-camera subsystem with up to two 13-megapixel sensors. The company also says the Snapdragon 450 supports new features such as real-time bokeh -- think "portrait mode" on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus -- and Qualcomm Clear Sight, which the company says "improves sharpness in all lighting conditions, especially low light."
In addition, Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 450 supports 1080p video capture at 60 frames per second, an upgrade from the 30 frames per second the older Snapdragon 435 supported.
When will it be available?
The roll-out of the Snapdragon 435 should be rather fast. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 450 will start "commercial sampling" in the third quarter of this year -- so, as of writing, that would be this quarter. Devices using the chip, the company says, should arrive just a quarter later.
Qualcomm's chip business performed quite well last quarter, and the company's financial guidance seems to indicate that the momentum will continue during this quarter. Although the company does face substantial challenges on the licensing side of its business, which far outweighs any of the good news from its higher-revenue but lower-profit chip business, it's at least encouraging that even in the midst of that messiness, its chip business continues executing to an annual cadence of new products across its product tiers.