Think that brand-new smartphone in your pocket is pretty cool? In just a few short months it’ll be officially obsolete.
In early 2015, the first phones with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 chip will arrive on store shelves, and they’re going to power all kinds of new experiences in the next generation of mobile devices.
Qualcomm Snapdragon processors power virtually all of today’s top-tier phones that aren’t iPhones.
Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry — if it’s a flagship device (or close), chances are it packs a Snapdragon (although Nvidia’s Tegra line and Samsung’s home-grown chipsmake rare but notable appearances here and there).
A smartphone or tablet’s processor is the backbone of the entire experience. Every app, every push notification, every pixel is controlled by the CPU (although graphics are sometimes handled by a separate GPU).
Greater computational power means enhanced abilities, and the company’s best chip on the market today — the Snapdragon 805 — enables experiences like the virtual reality environment on the Samsung Gear VR (created by a Qualcomm-powered Galaxy Note 4).
The Snapdragon 810 will level-up things even further. In a briefing with reporters, Qualcomm demonstrated some of the practical new abilities its new processor will enable in next year’s smartphones.
Here are five things next year’s smartphones, powered by the 810, will be able to do that this year’s can’t:
1. Juggle 4K video
Yes, smartphones such as the LG G3 already have Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440) displays, which more pixels than you’ll ever need, but the new phones will be more about moving 4K video around than actually displaying it. A phone with a Snapdragon 810 will be able to wirelessly stream a 4K video (4,096 x 2,160) to a TV with just a few taps. Of course, you’ll need a TV or dongle capable of receiving it, but that’s in the works, too.
And just where will we get all the 4K video? Qualcomm believes that we’ll create it ourselves, and there’s good reason to think that. Most flagship smartphones can already shoot 4K video (it requires only an 8-megapixel camera), and the company estimates 500 million devices will be 4K-capable by 2018. An ecosystem needs to arise to deal with those big video files, and the 810 enables exactly that.
2. Simulate an optical zoom
There’s a new kind of smartphone camera, made by Core Photonics, that’s actually two cameras: a normal wide-angle imager, and one with a fixed telephoto lens that magnifies the image about 3x. Using the serious computing power in the Qualcomm chip, the phone can combine the two images to create a picture that Core Photonics claims is better than what a DSLR can capture, at low zoom levels.
Checking out a live demo of the camera, I could read the text in a Peanuts cartoon that the camera was aimed at, even though the zoom was engaged at about 8x. The picture from a normal camera, displayed alongside the Photonics cam, was noticeably blurrier, and the text was illegible.
3. Record directional audio
One big issue with capturing video on cellphones is audio quality. With the new chip, the phone will be able to process sound in a way that captures it in specific directions. If you, say, just want to record audio from the person you’re filming, you’ll be able to tell your camera you just want his or her voice, and nothing else.
4. Serve as your home PC
With this much computing power in a phone or tablet, it can actually serve as a PC workstation, connecting wirelessly to a workstation with a monitor and keyboard. With a device not much bigger than a Chromecast, a Qualcomm-powered tablet can power a the workstation, connected via the next generation of Wi-Fi, called 802.11ad (aka WiGig).
The Snapdragon 810 will be the first Qualcomm chip to support 802.11ad, which is about 5x the speed of the current 802.11ac standard. That’s good enough for 4K and then some, although it’s going to require new hardware all around.
5. Game like a console
Finally, a phone or tablet powered by a Snapdragon 810 processor will be a pretty good substitute for a game console. While Android has had difficulty in becoming a fully fledged game platform, next year’s hardware will be superb for gaming, able to connect to an external monitor wirelessly with ease for gaming on a big screen.
All these new abilities are just demonstrations at this point — it’s up to manufacturers to implement them. But they certainly will, and tomorrow’s smartphones will surely play an even greater role in our digital lives than they do now… if that’s even possible.