Qualcomm looks to AI and VR with new Snapdragon

Qualcomm has unveiled plans for its new flagship smartphone chip, the Snapdragon 845, feeding off the buzz surround artificial intelligence, immersive experiences and longer battery life.

“There’s a lot to be excited about with premium devices using our new platform, which is expected to ship early next year.” Qualcomm said on its blog. “Amazing photos, smooth video, smart applications, fast connections, immersive XR, and extreme power. We can’t wait for user devices to start shipping!”

Like its predecessor, the Snapdragon 835, it wouldn’t be a bad bet to assume this will be a feature of the majority of next year’s flagship devices. But what is the new chip all about.

Firstly, AI is clearly a bit driver for the team. The 845 will feature a new Hexagon 685 DSP architecture, with GPU and CPU enhancements that Qualcomm claims with deliver up to three times faster processing of neural networks running on-device compared to the previous generation. More processing will now be located on devices, which, in theory, should improve latency, reliability, and security for those who can’t wait those extra couple of milliseconds.

Looking towards the virtual world of immersive experiences, the team is also boasting about a Adreno 630 visual processing subsystem, which consists of advancements in graphics, video, and display. Combined with heterogeneous computing, Adreno 630 is designed to enhance areas of immersion, including intuitive interactions, visuals, and sounds.

One of the areas which has been improved on the VR side of things is the  6 degrees of freedom (6-DoF). This was an area Qualcomm was shouting about in August, essentially allowing the user to better move physically in the virtual world, but there is another, quite useful, step forward here.

“With the Snapdragon 845, our new Adreno 630 better merges the physical with the virtual world using Room-Scale 6-DoF with Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM), a mobile VR first,” Qualomm said. “This includes wall collision technology and allows you to move freely through both your virtual and physical world while avoiding real world obstacles that could inhibit your experience.”

In short, if you’re about to walk into something, you’ll get a warning. A simple idea, but the best ones usually are. A final point on the VR side of things is the focus of the eye. Qualcomm has said another new feature will be to detect where the user is looking before directing the highest graphics resources towards that point. It should improve the imagine, while lessoning the data strain through prioritization.

The final point is for those who are on the move. Battery life is an area of focus with the team claiming the new architectures can help improve battery life by up to 30%, while Quick Charge 4+ technology is engineered to get devices up to 50% of a full charge in 15 minutes. Whether these claims are based in reality remains to be seen, but battery power is becoming a useful USP for device manufacturers, so it is unsurprising to see this upgrade.

The Snapdragon 835 was a prominent feature of the mobile world throughout 2017, and with these updates it is perfectly feasible to assume the 845 will continue the reign. Huawei has already said it will be using the processor in a mysterious new launch next year, and we’re pretty sure it won’t be too long before other Android device manufacturers come forward and say the same thing.

A smartwatch that uses body heat to recharge – sounds too good to be true

We’ve never been convinced by the smartwatch trend, as it continues to disappoint month after month, but every now and then a feature crops up which might turn out to be quite useful.

PowerWatch will start shipping this month (November), and it has one feature which certainly has the potential to cut through the mundane noise which is being made by the other manufacturers; the watch runs off your body heat. Obviously there is an option to charge in the more traditional manner, but put it on your wrist and the battery will start to fill up depending on how many degrees is radiating from your skin.

The idea is based on thermoelectric power. The technology itself has been around for quite a while, though has been primarily used in very niche areas due to the cost/benefit ratio (i.e. there generally isn’t a positive one), such as the NASA space program. Matrix Industries, the manufacturers of the PowerWatch, has said due to the advent of low-power electronics, it felt it was the right time to use the thermoelectric technology for a consumer product.

And priced at $169, there is every chance the product could make a splash. Of course there are the standard features you tend to see on every smartwatch (calorie and step counter, sleep tracker, water resistance etc.), but we don’t really care about those; the body heat recharger is a genuine USP and you don’t see many genuine USPs in the hardware market anymore.

Just to be clear, we haven’t had a chance to look at the product, so any claims on body heat recharging are taken on the word of Matrix Industries, but should the technology prove to be successful, it could be the first step of a genuine breakthrough for mobile devices. Battery power and performance is an area which has seen little progress over the last couple of years, however incorporating these thermoelectric ideas into the any new design would certainly be of interest to various smartphone manufacturers around the world.

Obviously the power and performance demands of a smartwatch is nothing compared to a smartphone, however new ideas in the battery segment of the tech world are far and few between. This could be one worth keeping an eye on.