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Qualcomm launched its latest Snapdragon processor and a renewed push into Windows PCs at an event in Hawaii this week, as it looks for sources of revenue beyond the smartphone.
The event showed how the chipmaker is trying to maintain a business as usual approach despite the increasing distractions of its legal battle with Apple and a hostile takeover bid from rival Broadcom.
The Snapdragon 845 will offer new artificial intelligence capabilities, more sophisticated virtual- and augmented-reality applications, and a new “secure processing unit” to better guard passwords and biometric information from hackers, Qualcomm said on Wednesday.
Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker, said it would be among the first companies to use the new Snapdragon platform to power its main devices next year.
Qualcomm is launching the latest generation of its signature product ahead of its usual schedule. Its predecessor, the Snapdragon 835, was launched in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. The chip’s earlier debut will fuel speculation that Samsung, whose top-end Galaxy devices typically run Qualcomm’s processors, is preparing to launch a flagship smartphone at CES next month incorporating the 845.
Before it unveiled the details of the Snapdragon, Qualcomm showed off a range of Windows PCs from HP and Asus offering persistent cellular wireless connections and multi-day battery life.
The laptops and convertible tablets, branded as “Always Connected PCs”, are the first fruits of a renewed partnership between Microsoft and Qualcomm. The companies are hoping to overcome the failure of Windows RT, an earlier attempt to bring Microsoft’s operating system to more portable devices, to compete with Apple’s iPad.
Qualcomm is trying to reduce its dependence on the smartphone and branch out into other kinds of gadgets, from PCs and servers to virtual reality headsets.
The Snapdragon 845 will enable so-called “room scale” VR, which will allow the wearer of a headset to walk around in virtual worlds drawing on a variety of cameras and sensors. Earlier mobile VR headsets were designed for a stationary experience.
In the fast-growing field of AI, Qualcomm’s latest platform offers a three-fold performance improvement over its predecessor for tasks such as virtual assistants.
Qualcomm will also bolster smartphone makers’ ability to compete with Apple with its secure processing unit. The feature is similar to the Secure Enclave in the iPhone which powers its Face ID and Apple Pay systems.
Ben Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies, said the Snapdragon showed how Qualcomm’s shift to a new processor architecture has enabled it to become more “flexible and dynamic”, introducing features more quickly to compete with the likes of Apple, which designs its own chips.
However, Mr Bajarin added that the chip would be too expensive to capitalise on the growth of lower-priced smartphones, particularly in China.
“Only a number of smartphones are running Snapdragon 835 and it’s been out for almost a year,” he said. “They really have to bring that technology down to the mid-range.”