Qualcomm is teasing the power of its next-generation processor.
Why it matters
These processors can make future computers lighter, faster and more energy efficient.
What comes next
You will start seeing these more powerful laptops and computers as soon as late 2023.
Apple has shown that the type of chips that act as the brains of their iPhones are also powerful enough to handle the company’s Mac range, and it has intensified things with Worldwide developer conference its debut second generation M2 chipwhich drives the newly designed Macbook Air. The excitement over mobile chips that drive computers is music to the ears of Qualcomm, which wants to create its own waves with the next generation of mobile-based chipsets that it has developed for performance laptops.
“We aim to have performance leadership in PC on CPU, period,” Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said in an interview last week.
The only catch: The fastest you will see one of these ultra-fast processors is the end of 2023.
Qualcomm, best known for manufacturing chips for advanced smartphones such as Samsung Galaxy S22 family, has actually delivered mobile-based processors – below its Snapdragon line – much further than Apple. Microsoft Surface Pro Xfor example, the first M1 computers preceded by almost a year.
But the company has high hopes for chips designed as part of the acquisition of Nuvia, which specializes in high-performance chips running on the so-called Arm architecture, the type that drives everything from smartphones to iPads. Amon said the Nuvia chip stands out from its existing crop of Snapdragon processors and will focus on high-performance computing that drives CPUs, GPUs and neural processing for artificial intelligence.
It’s part of a broader shift away from older Intel-based chips that allow PC makers – like Apple – to integrate more smartphone-like features into laptops and desktops.
Amon, who took over as CEO of Qualcomm a year ago this month, met with me to discuss his thoughts on Nuvia, the future of augmented reality and the metaverse, the economy and the management of supply chain constraints.
The elusive PC market
While Qualcomm has been supplying its Snapdragon processors to computers for years, they have rarely entered the market. Early versions often felt understated and did not run key applications that only worked on the x86 architecture powered by Intel processors.
But Apple showed that mobile processors not only act as the brain for computers, but can become an important selling point. Amon said he is grateful to Apple for driving the development of applications that work on Arm and noted that Microsoft is also on this journey.
“The timing is now because you needed a perfect alignment of stars,” he said.
The trend of more people working remotely has also changed the requirements for laptops, Amon said. All of a sudden, connectivity everywhere, more powerful cameras and video conferencing, and fast, always-on features have become priorities. He said it plays well with Snapdragon’s key features.
He is investing in Nuvia to give him an edge. The startup, which Qualcomm acquired last year, was founded by chip veterans with experience from Google, Arm and, yes, Apple.
The supply chain and the economy
As the supply chain tightened, Amon said, he invested in capacity with his foundry partners and worked to diversify his sources. The steps taken are beginning to pay off, and he said he expects to see a better balance between demand and supply by the end of this year or the beginning of 2023.
“I know that’s not true for some of our colleagues and other industries, with some talking about 2024,” he said.
Amon said the direction of the economy is difficult to predict but acknowledged many negative emotions. Despite a potential downturn, the company is beginning to see interest in serving various industries beyond its core business for smartphones, from healthcare to the automotive industry.
What potentially affects Qualcomm is the loss of one of its biggest customers, Apple. The iPhone manufacturer reportedly works on its own modem to pair with its custom A-series processors. Qualcomm issued guidance last year that by 2023, its share of modems running Apple devices would drop to 20%, and single digits thereafter.
But Amon said Qualcomm still sees growth in the company, and whether Apple is ready to use its own modem is not up to him. “They know our number, they know where to find us,” he said.
On AR and the meta verse
Google, at the end of its I / O Developer Conference in May, teased a pair of augmented reality glasses that offered real-time language translation. The teasing came in the form of a smartly produced video, so it is unclear when they will actually be ready for the best broadcast time.
But the kind of thin, elegant AR glasses you see on sci-fi programs can be longer.
“We’re about five years away from realistic AR glasses,” Amon said. “It’s not a technical challenge that we do not aim for.”
He said that AR glasses, which are likely to come earlier, if not bulky at first, happen and will be significant.
With virtual reality, you begin to see critical mass, with the adoption of the Meta Quest headset. AR, which superimposes digital images on the real world, is at the beginning of this curve. But Amon said that AR will be bigger than VR.
These VR and AR glasses will be the key to the metaverse, today’s hot technical buzzword. The metaverse is a way to connect with othersand Amon said that “the applications are endless.”
“Most likely you will see a scale in entrepreneurship before everyone lives their lives in the metaverse,” he said.
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