Apple draws level with Qualcomm after Germany win

A German court has dismissed Qualcomm’s efforts to block iPhone sales in the country as ‘groundless’ as Apple hit back in the on-going global patent dispute.

According to Reuters, the regional court in the city of Mannheim threw out the case stating the patent in question was not violated by Apple’s installation of Qualcomm chips in its smartphones. Qualcomm has already said it will appeal the decision, as the pair trade blows in various courts throughout across the world.

This case focuses on the use of Intel-chips in certain Apple devices, with Qualcomm suggesting one of its patents had been infringed. The patent in question relates to power management.

Back in September, Qualcomm effectively accused Apple of corporate espionage, questioning how the gulf in performance when measuring its own chips against Intel’s could have been bridged so quickly. However, this argument clearly wasn’t enough to convince the Mannheim judge of wrong-doing.

Having already secured an order to block the sale of certain iPhones through a ruling in Munich, as well as a similar decision in China, Apple needed a win to halt the Qualcomm momentum. The pair have been trading blows over patents and royalties for years now, though the on-going case in the US could prove to be the most significant battle of the dispute.

The chipmaker is currently facing a FTC antitrust investigation, which has escalated to trial, currently being heard in the US District Court in San Jose, California. As you can imagine, Apple, Intel and various others have been playing the part of very proactive cheerleaders, urging on the FTC from the side-lines.

This trial has now concluded for the sixth day, with the FTC calling various witnesses from tech companies such as Apple, Samsung and Ericsson, as well as IP experts from consultancies and universities. The aim is to prove Qualcomm is effectively a monopoly, abusing this prominent position through excessive royalty payments and unreasonable licensing agreements for years.

With the FTC now taking a seat, the next couple of days will see the Qualcomm lawyers preach their case. Here, the team will aim to prove the royalty payments are justified, such is leadership position Qualcomm has worked up in the segment, and the licensing arrangement is the most beneficial and simplistic way to do business. The Qualcomm lawyers are certainly well practised in the art of arguing against antitrust accusations, so it will be interesting to see which way this trial heads.

While the win in Germany is certainly a positive for Apple, which has been on the losing side of a few of the recent skirmishes, the FTC trial is the big one for both parties.

The connected car takes pole position at CES

With the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, it perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise the connected car is stealing the headlines at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Starting with Audi, pairing up with Disney the team has unveiled an in-car VR entertainment system which adapts the content to the movements of the car. The game itself is called ‘Marvel’s Avengers: Rocket’s Rescue Run’ and is based on the journey itself. If the car turns right or accelerates the spaceship in the experience does the same.

While Audi is the parent company, the open platform has been brought to the market through subsidy Holoride. Audi will license the technology to the start-up, which will be made available to all carmakers and content developers in the future.

“Creative minds will use our platform to come up with fascinating worlds that turn the journey from A to B into a real adventure,” said Nils Wollny, Head of Digital Business at Audi, and future the CEO of Holoride. “We can only develop this new entertainment segment by adopting a cooperative, open approach for vehicle, device and content producers.”

Moving across to the mapping side of the connected vehicle, Intel’s Mobileye announced a new agreement with UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey. Although this might not be the most exciting aspect of the connected car space, it is perhaps the most crucial; without the relevant location data, the OS is pretty much useless.

While this data will certainly supplement the Intel offering for the connected car space, Mobileye and Ordnance Survey will use the data to create new customized solutions derived from the location intelligence, to help companies realise the riches promised through the city segment.

“One key, and common, learning is that detailed and accurate geospatial data is a must for the success of these projects,” said Neil Ackroyd, Ordnance Survey CEO. “We envisage this new rich data to be key to how vehicles, infrastructure, people and more will communicate in the digital age. Our partnership with Mobileye further enhances our commitment to supporting Britain as a world-leading center for digital and tech excellence.”

For chipmaker Qualcomm there’s been no rest to check out the shows. While Audi, Ducati and Ford have all been using its tech to run various demos across the show, the team has also teamed up with Amazon’s Alexa to demonstrate in-car artificial intelligence.

“The vision behind Qualcomm Technologies’ automotive solutions is to continuously improve and expand the realm of possibilities for in-car experiences while delivering unparalleled safety-conscious solutions,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of Product Management, Qualcomm.

“Leveraging Amazon’s natural language processing technology, along with services like Amazon Music, Prime Video, Fire TV and Audible, allows us to offer an exclusive, interactive in-car experience for both the drivers and passengers to leverage the latest innovations in a natural, intuitive way.”

The demonstration makes use of Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform to include immersive natural language instructions involving in-vehicle navigation, points of interest outside the car and multimedia services which users will use every day at home with Alexa.

“Our vision is for Alexa to be available anywhere customers want to interact with her, whether they’re at home, in the office or on the go,” said Ned Curic, VP of Alexa Auto at Amazon.

This is of course not the only bit of news featuring Amazon this week, as the team announced a partnership with navigation firm Here yesterday. The tie in gives the Here platform a smarter, voice UI and gives Alexa a useful little foray into the connected car segment, an area Google’s virtual assistant has got a little bit of a head-start in.

Finally, AT&T and Toyota Motor North America announced they will enable 4G LTE connectivity for various Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks across the US, starting at the end of the year. As part of the deal, owners of the relevant vehicles will also receive unlimited data plans from AT&T, while the vehicle will also become a wifi hotspot.

“Cars are the ultimate mobile device. Working with Toyota and KDDI we will bring the benefits of connectivity to millions of consumers,” said Chris Penrose, President of IoT Solutions at AT&T.

“This new technology deepens our relationship with Toyota. And we couldn’t be happier to continue working with them. We’re both founding members of the American Center for Mobility testing facility for connected and automated vehicles, where we will help deliver the future of connectivity.”

Qualcomm pays $1.5bn to ban some iPhone sales in Germany

Qualcomm has elected to post $1.5 billion as a security bond to enable the enforcement of remedies ordered by the Munich District Court blocking the sale of iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models in Germany.

The ban comes as the latest chapter of the long-running Qualcomm-Apple legal saga, with the chipmaker finding success in its copyright infringement claim in Germany. On December 20 the District Court of Munich decided Apple had in fact infringed Qualcomm’s technology for power savings in the older models and ordered the company to halt all sales in Germany.

Although the ruling was make a couple of weeks ago, the bond itself makes the ban official, allowing the court to pay Apple for any damages incurred should it be able to successfully appeal against the ruling. Apple has already stated it will appeal the ban and will also stop selling the devices at its 15 retail locations across the country.

But this doesn’t seem to be good enough for Qualcomm.

“Apple was ordered to cease the sale, offer for sale and importation for sale of all infringing iPhones in Germany,” Qualcomm said in a statement. “The Court also ordered Apple to recall infringing iPhones from third party resellers in Germany.”

This is one of the elements of interpretation in the case. Apple will continue to ship devices to third-parties to sell, only ceasing sales at its own retail locations. Qualcomm lawyers read the ruling differently however, suggesting this is a blanket ban on all iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 devices across the country, third-party retailers included.

For Apple, this is just a bad end to a bad week. Having just reduced its guidance for what traditionally is its strongest quarter in the year, a sales ban in a large, developed market is not ideal. Some suggest it has nothing to worry about considering these are older models, though cash conscious consumers are more alert to bargains than ever before and the iLeader seemingly pushed the pricing boat too far with the ridiculously priced iPhone X.

For Qualcomm, assuming it can fight to have the ruling upheld, this is a massive win. Precedent is a very powerful concept in the legal world and this might well be an order which it can use as evidence for additional ruling in other markets. The legal battle between the two has certainly been a long one, but this ruling has handed the Qualcomm team a bit of additional incentive.

Looking at the wider patent dispute, a similar case has been heard in China, were Apple has been told to stop importing the infringing models while Qualcomm is also pushing the case in the US. Qualcomm has the better of the early exchanges, though it will be the US ruling which will dictate the winner of this battle ultimately.

Samsung and LG set to launch 5G smartphones in February

The Korean media has reported that the world smartphone leader Samsung and its struggling compatriot are going to launch the first 5G smartphones at MWC and ship in March.

According to a report by the Korean media outlet Pulse, citing its industry source, that both Samsung and LG will debut their 5G smartphones in February next year. Volume shipment is expected to start in March, which will synchronise with the start of 5G service for consumers by the three operators. All three of them launched limited 5G services for business simultaneously at the beginning of December.

Mobile World Congress has long been the venue for Samsung to showcase its latest Galaxy flagship product. It will be the series’ 10th iteration next year, so we can expect quite a bit of fanfare to go with the occasion. Whether the Galaxy 10 will be built on 5G, or there will be a 5G variant of the product, is up to speculation.

LG has seen its smartphone market share shrinking in recent years and already posted over $400 million loss in the first three quarters of the year. As a result, the head of its Mobile Communications business was replaced one year into the job. LG would desperately need something to excite the market if the company still decides to stay in the handset market. The expected 5G product could be a new model of its flagship G series, or the new head of its mobile business could decide to rewrite its product portfolio.

Both companies are expected to build their first 5G smartphones on the newly launched Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, which we have reported in detail. Samsung was one of the illustrious partners to adorn the launch event, but LG was absent. With a long line of OEMs, especially the Chinese smartphone makers showing strong interest in the new Snapdragon, we can expect more 5G handsets to be launched in Barcelona come February than those from the Korean stalwarts.

Qualcomm has one last 2018 5G fest with TIM in Rome

Qualcomm’s events team has had a frantic end to the year, culminating in the demo of a 5G NR video call over millimeter wave in Italy.

The venue was TIM’s freshly unveiled 5G Innovation Hub in Rome. In attendance were Qualcomm and TIM, of course, but also a host of kit and device partners as well as the great and good of Roman public life, including its Mayor Virginia Raggi (pictured). Most of the presentations were in Italian, but they sounded pretty cool, and there were also a bunch of demos from the various partners.

The highlight of the day was what was claimed to be Europe’s first 5G NR video call, completed over the TIM network using millimeter wave. It made use of a Qualcomm modem and some Ericsson kit. The demo is being positioned as ‘a new milestone that will soon lead to the commercial use of 5G mmWave technology in Europe.’

“When we started to define the strategy and the development plans for 5G, we immediately realized that such a massive challenge could not be faced without the support of a wide range of partners committed to the same goal,” said Mario Di Mauro, Chief Strategy, Innovation & Customer Experience Officer at TIM.

“We therefore proposed Qualcomm Technologies set up a place where work on the new 5G services and every business idea could find a quick realization thanks to the support of leading international technology players, innovative partners and start-ups from the local and national ecosystem.”

“Qualcomm Technologies is very excited to be part of this initiative and we would like to congratulate TIM on the significant momentum they have achieved in a short time with the Hub,” said Enrico Salvatori, President Qualcomm EMEA. “A great example of innovation is today’s demo showing the first 5G mmWave mobile smartphone form-factor mobile test device powered by the Snapdragon X50 5G modem connecting to Ericsson 5G Radio Access Network.

“We are very pleased to be part of the team helping to bring 5G to commercial reality in Italy in 2019 and also to realizing the vision of the Hub. 5G is so much more than new devices and smartphones and it will provide significant growth opportunities in new sectors. The Hub provides TIM with a strong platform to leverage the benefits of 5G to a whole host of new customers and industries.”

We’ll leave it at that for now, but we shot a bunch of video interviews while we were there so keep an eye out for those in the coming days. We can also recommend the Farina Kitchen pizza restaurant, which features a proper wood fired oven and does a very naughty fried pizza starter. Here’s a shot of the 5G call taking place.

TIM video call

China issues injunctions against most Apple iPhone models – that was quick

The week after the US arranged the arrest of a Huawei exec China has granted Qualcomm an injunction prohibiting the sales of most Apple smartphones in the country. Coincidence?

Qualcomm and Apple have been at war for months over what the former charges the latter to use its technology in its devices. Apple wants to pay less and Qualcomm would rather it didn’t. A proxy war has ensued in which various regulators suddenly got hold of a bunch of dirt on Qualcomm and Apple has found itself accused of playing fast and loose with intellectual property.

They have both landed telling blows but the most recent round went to Qualcomm, with the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China granting its request for two preliminary injunctions against four Chinese subsidiaries of Apple to stop them selling importing and selling the following iPhone models: 6S, 6S Plus, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X. In other words all of them bar the most recent ones, which apparently don’t use the offending patents.

“We deeply value our relationships with customers, rarely resorting to the courts for assistance, but we also have an abiding belief in the need to protect intellectual property rights,” said Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm General Counsel. “Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These Court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio.”

The patents themselves seem relatively trivial and concern the user interface rather than core Qualcomm stuff like modems. They ‘enable consumers to adjust and reformat the size and appearance of photographs, and to manage applications using a touch screen when viewing, navigating and dismissing applications on their phones.’

Patent disputes are rarely about the significance of patents themselves, which are usually used as pawns in a greater battle of wills. You do have to wonder, however, since Apple seems to be able to cope just fine without them and UI software is a core strength, why it didn’t just develop its own way of doing that stuff in-house.

Apple will, of course, appeal, and the WSJ was the lucky recipient of a generic quote from one of its spokespeople. “Qualcomm’s effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world,” it went.

What is not known is how much encouragement the Chinese state gave to the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court to find against one of the US’s greatest business champions. It was generally assumed that the arrest of Huawei’s CFO would result in repercussions and the timing of this decision is intriguing.

It’s especially ironic that Qualcomm has been used as a vector for the latest offensive in the great Sino-American trade war since it’s widely suspected that China blocked Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP in retaliation for the US intervening on the proposed acquisition of Qualcomm by Broadcom. It could all just be a coincidence, of course, but anything involving the US and China seems likely to be at the very least tainted by politics.

Going under the hood of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: plenty to like

More details of Qualcomm’s first 5G chipset have been released, bringing all-round improvements, and a 5G chipset for PCs was also announced.

On the first day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, Qualcomm announced its 5G chipset for mobile devices, the Snapdragon 855, but released limited specs. On the following two days more details were disclosed. An SoC for 5G-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx was also unveiled.

In addition to the X50 modem for 5G connectivity (on both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies) and X24 modem (to provide LTE connectivity), at the centre of the Snapdragon 855 is ARM’s new flagship Cortex A76 CPU, marketed by Qualcomm as Kryo 485. It contains 8 cores with the single core top performance at 2.84 GHz. Qualcomm claims the 855 is 45% faster than its predecessor 845, though it did not specify what exactly this refers to. More importantly for Qualcomm, the top speed is 9% faster than the Kirin 980 from HiSilicon (a Huawei subsidiary), another 7-nanometre implementation of the ARM Cortex A76.

Also included in the 855 is the new Adreno 640 GPU rendering graphics. Qualcomm has focused 855’s marketing messages on gaming performance, and the GPU is at the core to deliver it. Qualcomm claims the new GPU will enable true HDR gaming, as well as support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats. Together with the display IP, the Adreno 640 GPU will support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback. Another feature highlighted is the support for Physically Based Rendering in graphics, which will help improve VR and AR experience, including more accurate lighting physics and material interactions, for example more life-like surface texture, or material-on-material audio interaction.

The key new feature on Snapdragon’s Hexagon 690 DSP is that it now includes a dedicated Machine Learning (ML) inferencing engine in the new “tensor accelerator”. The Hexagon 690 also doubles the number of HVX vector pipelines over its predecessors the Hexagon 680 and 685, to include four 1024b vector pipelines. The doubled computing power and the dedicated ML engine combined are expected to improve the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability by a big margin.

The integrated new Spectra 380 image signalling processor (ISP) will both improve the Snapdragon’s capability to deepen acceleration and to save power consumption when processing images. Qualcomm believes the new ISP will only consume a quarter of the power as its predecessor for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.

On the OEM collaboration side, in addition to Samsung, on day 2 of the event we also saw Pete Lau, the CEO of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus come to the stage to endorse the new 5G chipset and vow to be the “first to feature” the Snapdragon 855. Separately, the British mobile operator EE announced that it will range a OnePlus 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019.

On the same day, thousands of miles away, more Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and ZTE (in addition to OnePlus) also embraced the new Snapdragon chipset at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference in Guangzhou, southern China. China Mobile will also launch a customer premise equipment (CPE), likely a fixed wireless access modem, using the same platform.

Back in Hawaii, on day 3 of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched a new chipset for PC: the Snapdragon 8cx (“c” for computer, “x” for eXtreme). This is Qualcomm’s third iteration of chipset for PC, built on ARM v8.1 (a variant of Cortex A76). Similar to the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx also has the X24 integrated cellular modem with for LTE connectivity, and the X50 modem with 5G connectivity can be paired with it. The CPU also has eight cores, with a top speed of 2.75 GHz. The new Adreno 680 GPU is said to process graphics twice as fast as the GPU in the previous generation ARM for Windows chipset (Snapdragon 850) but 60% more efficient in power consumption.

Perhaps the most meaningful change is its memory architecture. The Snapdragon 8cx will have a 128-bit wide interface, enabling it to provide native support for much more software and applications, including Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365, which clearly is a sales pitch to the corporate IT departments.

Unlike the OEM support garnered by Snapdragon 855, there was no public endorsement by PC makers yet. Lenovo did come to the stage but was only talking about its Yoga 2-in-1 notebooks that have used earlier generations of Snapdragon chipsets for Windows on ARM. On the other hand, Qualcomm does not position Snapdragon 8cx as a replacement for the 850 but rather as a higher end contemporary, with 850 mainly targeted at a niche consumer market.

In general, this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit has delivered more step change with the new product launches. More concrete industry support was also on show, indicating that, depending on how fast and extensive 5G is to be rolled out, we may start seeing true 5G smartphones in the first half of next year. We may need to wait a bit longer before a reasonable line-up of always-on 5G connected PCs can hit the market.

Qualcomm pumps Snapdragon 855 in Hawaii

The chipset company Qualcomm just unveiled the newest Snapdragon SoC product to power 5G mobile devices.

On the first day of its annual “Snapdragon Tech Summit” in Hawaii, Qualcomm introduced its first commercial 5G chipset, branded as Snapdragon 855. The system is compatible with Qualcomm’s X50 modem with antennae supporting 5G on both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands. On a 7-nm silicon will also be its 4th-generation multi-core on-device AI engine (said to deliver 3X faster AI performance than its predecessor the Snapdragon 845), Computer Vision Image Signal Processor (CV-ISP) for new photo and video features (“true 4K HDR video capture, cinema-grade photography capabilities”), and 3D Sonic Sensor. The sonic sensor can be used for under-display fingerprint reading using ultrasonic waves (instead of the current optical under-display sensors using light), which, Qualcomm claims, is safer and more accurate.

Qualcomm expects the first smartphones using the new chipset to hit the market in the first half of next year. “The Snapdragon 855 will define the premium tier in 2019,” said Alex Katouzian, SVP and GM of Mobile for Qualcomm, who unveiled the new chipset. Earlier Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s President, said he expected to see a lot of phone announcements at CES in January and a lot of actual phone launches at MWC in February.

“Today marks a massive and exciting step forward underscoring how Qualcomm Technologies and ecosystem leaders are driving 5G commercialization, a journey that went from R&D, accelerated standardization and trials, the launch of innovative products and technologies, to the imminent launch of 5G networks and smartphones across the globe starting in early 2019,” said Amon at yesterday’s event. “Together we are demonstrating our role in transforming the mobile industry and enriching consumer experiences with 5G mobile devices on live 5G networks at this year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit.”

Executives from mobile operators including AT&T, EE, Telstra, and Verizon were present at the event, so were representatives from Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, NETGEAR, and Inseego. The 5G smartphone from Samsung to be launched by both Verizon and AT&T is likely to be the first of its kind to be built on Snapdragon 855.

“At Samsung, we have a vision of a connected world powered by 5G that will benefit consumers, communities, industries and governments,” said Justin Denison, SVP for mobile product strategy and marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “5G will fuel collaboration, connectivity and productivity worldwide, and we’re excited to be at the forefront working alongside partners like Qualcomm Technologies to make the transformation to 5G a reality.”

The event will last three days till Thursday, and Qualcomm promised more announcements and more details will be released.

Qualcomm-NXP deal could be back on

The Chinese president would be open to approving the acquisition of NXP should Qualcomm propose again, according to the White House.

The American and Chinese presidents met during the G20 event in Argentina to cover an array of thorny issues. The White House press secretary’s statement on 1 December included the key points. On trade, “President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10% rate, and not raise it to 25% at this time.”

However, this is conditional on a few concessions from China, including substantial increased purchase of American products, and structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture. “If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10% tariffs will be raised to 25%”, the statement said.

The last point on the statement related to Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP.  The statement said “President Xi also stated that he is open to approving the previously unapproved Qualcomm-NXP deal should it again be presented to him.” The deal, after repeatedly missing extended deadlines, was called off in July after China had refused to approve it.

As is typical with meetings like this, each party has been trumpeting its own triumphs. Bloomberg compared how the results were communicated differently in the two countries’ official channels. The Qualcomm-NXP reconsideration, together with the 90-day deadline and a few other points, was not mentioned by the Chinese official media. In a more bizarre twist, the official translation of the White House statement produced by the American Embassy in China is said to have been blocked from sharing on WeChat, the popular social network in China.