Qualcomm’s 2016 4G/5G Summit kicked off Monday in Hong Kong.
While most of Day 1 consisted of an overview of the company’s Snapdragon processor line, we caught a few interesting tidbits about Qualcomm’s areas of focus and vision for the future.
Here’s a quick rundown of stuff we heard that watchers should keep an eye on going forward:
It’s not just about the CPU anymore
With the launch of its Snapdragon 820 chip last year, Qualcomm unleashed its first custom-built CPU. But looking ahead, the company will increasingly shift its focus toward the GPU and DSP.
“CPU will always remain important, but over time the trend really from a CPU standpoint is there’s less and less importance being put on the CPU,” Qualcomm Senior Vice President of Product Management Keith Kressin said.
But why the change?
According to Kressin, many emerging use cases – like virtual and augmented reality or machine learning – are run more efficiently on the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and the Digital Signal Processor (DSP). For example, Kressin said a machine learning algorithm run on a CPU sees a three to four fold improvement when run on the GPU and another 2x improvement over the GPU when run on the DSP.
The DSP is also increasingly important for use cases like photography and VR/AR, Kressin said.
On the camera side in particular, Kressin said there’s “lots of room for improvement,” so look out for tweaks there coming down the pipe.
A snapshot of the company’s camera strategy
Qualcomm has been doing a lot of work with its DSP technology for cameras – and it shows. Out of the top 15 mobile cameras ranked by DxOMark, 10 use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor, including the number one-rated Google Pixel smartphone and Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge.
But the company is also now developing Snapdragon camera modules.
According to Qualcomm Product Manager Robert Lay, the new modules will be “plug and play” solutions that any OEM can use to cut down on engineering resources needed on their end. The modules include single camera, big pixel 2PD and dual camera configurations, with additional options to come, Lay said.
Qualcomm is also looking at ways to capture 3D video and images via structured light and software-based applications supported by real time tracking. Lay said the capability will be useful in both social media and commerce use cases.
“This is a pretty exciting area,” Lay said. “In the area of social networking, we all take pictures of our food and post them to Facebook or wherever. Now you’ll be able to actually pick the dish up and look at it from all angles.”
Lay said 3D capabilities will be making their way “into the home” at some point soon, and Qualcomm intends to be at the forefront of that effort.
There has been a huge push toward biometrics this year – most notably with the widespread adoption of fingerprint scanners – and that trend is only expected to continue to grow next year, Qualcomm Senior Director of Product Management for Security and Machine Learning Sy Choudhury said.
Interestingly, Choudhury said much of the push for biometric systems and the secure foundations that lie beneath them has come from players in the mobile payment space.
“Visa, Mastercard, the WeChat Pay folks, Tencent and AliPay all came up at separate times and said ‘if you are going to enable mobile payments, from here on, using the fingerprint as an authenticator, your device has to use a secure end-to-end fingerprint authentication,” Choudhury said. “That was not the case if you look last year.”
Choudhury said it won’t necessarily be a fight to the death between competing technologies like fingerprint and iris scanning, though, since they can be used to complement one another in two-factor authentication.
Choudhury said a mobile payments player recently said once 40 percent of device have both a camera-based authenticator and fingerprint authentication, they would like to move to multifactor authentication for higher transaction amounts. That penetration rate, Choudhury said, is still likely four years out – give or take.