As usual, Qualcomm’s been a substantial presence at MWC this year with the company’s latest Snapdragon 810 processors appearing inside several major releases at the expo, including the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet and HTC One M9 smartphone, amongst others. However, the chip-maker has been in attendance talking up its next product that it plans to bring to market next year; the Snapdragon 820.
The chip has now been officially unveiled and Qualcomm explained it will be manufactured using FinFET, an advanced manufacturing process that allows for lower nanometre (nm) architectures (and thus creates faster chips), however, it’s not clear whether it will be made by TSMC on 16nm or Samsung on 14nm. Given Qualcomm and Samsung’s recent tensions it’s a tough call to make.
With the Snapdragon 810, Qualcomm ditched its own custom Krait core architecture in favour of ARM’s big.LITTLE octa-core setup, however, with the Snapdragon 820 Qualcomm will debut the successor architecture to Krait, dubbed Kryo. Not a great deal has been revealed about this other than it being 64-bit and part of Qualcomm’s Zeroth cognitive computing platform.
What’s cognitive computing? Well it’s a bit full-on to be honest but in very simplistic terms it’s essentially an attempt to make a computer processor work more like the human brain in terms of efficiency. On a practical level it’s also supposed to be more intelligent and to be able to better anticipate a users’ needs.
Qualcomm’s stage demo in Barcelona showcased Zeroth recognising points of reference in photographs, such as people or landscapes, and then performing searches based on that information – this can, for example, show you every photo featuring a particular person. In theory, such a system could be used with a front-facing camera to allow a device to adapt to the needs of whoever is using it, and this can be extrapolated to other always-on sensors paired with software applications. There’s been more than a hint that this technology is aimed at bringing the so-called Internet Of Things (ie: smart appliances and household goods) to life as a genuinely useful proposition, because it has the potential of minimising mundane user interaction for things like logging into accounts. If you walk into your house or switch on your phone and it just does all the things you like, how much better is that? Qualcomm even mentioned the possibility of Zeroth recognising facial expressions, so in theory if your phone starts playing a song you don’t like it could realise straight away and skip it just from that grimace you pulled.
A report from ExtremeTech describes how this functionality will be preserved from one device to another via Zeroth:
“What Qualcomm is saying is that the Zeroth platform will have the ability to learn from a users’ actions and can transfer that learned knowledge across different devices, even when the user upgrades a smartphone. The company is pitching Zeroth a bit like a smart administrator that knows your preferences before you do, and can leverage its own measurements and capabilities to take better photos; switch intelligently between WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular data depending on which signals are the strongest. Zeroth is also supposedly capable of recognizing gestures, expressions, and faces, and intelligently sensing its own surroundings.”
And when will we see the Snapdragon 820 with Zeroth arrive? Well according to Qualcomm it will be “sampling” the chipset to manufacturers in the second half of 2015, which should mean it will be ready for consumer devices by MWC 2016 or thereabouts.