S4 Pro Puts Qualcomm Back In The Fight
Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro platform is backed by big improvements in CPU and graphics performance, arming the company with the numbers it needs to go up against the current heavy-hitters employing Cortex-A9-based SoCs.
As the technology world works, however, more competition is headed Qualcomm's way. Nvidia's next-generation Tegra and TI's OMAP 5430 are both expected soon. Both will employ Cortex-A15 cores and, we are certain, substantially better graphics performance.
Qualcomm faces a few challenges moving forward. The first is a lack of games able to showcase the strengths of its Adreno architecture. In comparison, Nvidia's storied history with ISVs has already proven quite fruitful for the company's mobile efforts. Today, there are several Tegra-optimized games (like RipTide and Shadowgun). Further, titles like Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II enjoy an early release on Tegra platforms compared to the rest of the Android ecosystem.
It'd be easy for PC enthusiasts to dismiss the value of titles written specifically for smartphones and tablets. However, they're very important to hardware vendors trying to demonstrate what a graphics processor can do. For example, Apple uses Epic's Infinity Blade series to evangelize what its iPads can do. As we all know, manufacturers need software to justify ever more powerful hardware.
Qualcomm's second obstacle is that S4 Pro-based devices may show up later to the party than the company would have liked. The APQ8064 in our mobile development platform is a very attractive SoC sporting the new Krait CPU architecture, Adreno 320 graphics, and Wi-Fi connectivity. But without an integrated cellular modem, the chip has to be complemented by another piece of silicon in smartphone designs. This almost certainly has ramifications for power consumption.
Its MSM8960T is where we'll see copious integration translate to a better balance between performance and power (for several reasons). Phones based on the SoC still haven't landed, though. And it remains to be seen how much of a head-start Qualcomm might enjoy with its Snapdragon S4 Pro platform compared to upcoming solutions from Nvidia and TI.
More near-term, we have no problem waiting for retail S4 Pro-based tablet or smartphone hardware, which is faster than anything else we've used in those segments. Based on the roadmaps we've seen, it'll be 2013 before Qualcomm is challenged. We only hope the company uses that time to court ISVs able to properly utilize its promising Adreno 320 graphics engine.