Shortly after Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) announced its next--generation Snapdragon 820 applications processor, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) went ahead and announced its next high-end applications processor known as the Exynos 8890.
The 8890 is interesting for a couple of a reasons. Firstly, it is the first Samsung applications processor to employ CPU cores that are Samsung-architected rather than ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) designed. Samsung says that these custom CPU cores lead to a 30% boost in performance over the ARM Cortex A57 cores inside of the previous Exynos 7420 and 10% better power efficiency.
Next, Samsung says that it is employing ARM's latest Mali-T880MP12 graphics architecture. This is quite a significant jump up from the graphics processor used in the prior-generation Exynos 7420 and I suspect that the use of this IP should allow for best-in-class high-end graphics performance from this chipset.
And finally, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this SoC is the fact that it integrates a Cat. 12/13 LTE-Advanced modem. This puts Samsung's feature-set right on par with Qualcomm's latest X12 LTE solution, which can be had in both stand-alone baseband form as well as in an integrated applications processor.
The biggest loser here seems to be Qualcomm
Although there is significant chatter on the Web suggesting that Qualcomm will be able to win back a spot inside Samsung's upcoming flagship phones with its Snapdragon 820, it looks as though Samsung is committed long term to trying to develop flagship-class applications processors that go toe to toe with Qualcomm's top processors across the board.
There may yet be some strategic benefit for Samsung to use the Snapdragon 820. For example, if Qualcomm agrees to use Samsung's foundry (allowing Samsung to profit from Snapdragon 820 chips sold to other smartphone vendors), Samsung could agree to use its applications processors in a portion of its smartphones.
However, I'm not particularly optimistic about Qualcomm's long-term chances in Samsung flagships at this point, especially since Samsung seems to be doing very well in implementing the latest modem feature. Frankly, at this point, I wonder if Samsung might actually get more aggressive in trying to compete directly with Qualcomm as a merchant applications processor vendor (though Samsung's position as a major smartphone vendor might be off-putting to many potential customers).
Mass production later this year implies early 2016 launch in the Galaxy S7
According to the Samsung press release, the Exynos 8890 will go into mass production late this year. For the sake of argument, let's assume that they start production on Dec. 1.
The typical time for a wafer to be fully processed in a fab is around 90 days, and after packaging the chips, it's not unreasonable to expect it to take about four to five months from production start to products in significant quantities on the shelves.
Assuming that Samsung plans to use the Exynos 8890 in its Galaxy S7, it would seem reasonable to expect the Galaxy S7 to be available in the March/April time frame given the aforementioned chip manufacturing time estimates. This contradicts some of the reports that claim Samsung will launch the Galaxy S7 in the January time frame.