Fabless communications chip giant Qualcomm has upgraded its Snapdragon 200 processor range aimed at entry-level smartphones with the introduction of a dual- and quad-core devices in 28-nm manufacturing process technology.
Although Qualcomm is recognized as the market leader in smartphone application processors with more than 40 percent market share, it is thought to be hurting under competition from the likes of MediaTek and Spreadtrum at the low end.
Qualcomm's profit fell below expectations in its second quarter financial results and this was thought to be due to intense competition in China and emerging markets that are rapidly adopting smartphones but at lower price points than prestige models.
The original Snapdragon 200s were implemented in 45-nm CMOS and based on quad-core Cortex-A5 cores licensed from ARM and specified to operate at up to 1.4-GHz clock frequency. The 28-nm upgrade is based on Cortex-A7 "little" processors specified to operate at up to 1.2-GHz. Qualcomm said the 28-nm upgrade feature key modem technologies that are important in China and emerging regions, including support for HSPA+ at up to 21 Mbps download speed and TD-SCDMA.
Qualcomm has also upgraded the graphics from Adreno 203 to Adreno 302 although it supports the same 720p display resolution. The processors will have support for dual cameras, with an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera and up to a 5 megapixel front-facing one, as well as feature a single platform for all SIM variants Qualcomm will be release Qualcomm Reference Designs which provide the basics of a mobile phone with customization options, support for testing and acceptance by regional operators and for access to hardware components suppliers and application developers.
To date more than 40 equipment makers have used the Qualcomm QRD program to launch more than 250 products in 17 countries, Qualcomm said.
"We are excited to offer our customers the broadest range of 3G technologies and superior performance and power-efficiency, enabling them to deliver a wide range of innovative smartphones for the high-volume segment," said Jeff Lorbeck, senior vice president of product management, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., in a statement.
A number of Chinese Internet companies started to tap into the smartphone market this year, a move that will further stir up competition in the sector.
Tencent Holdings Ltd released six smartphone models targeting student customers. Baidu Inc, China's most-used search engine, introduced two smartphone models running on its self-developed mobile operating system.
Qihoo 360 Technology, an anti-virus company, teamed up with three manufacturers including the nation's home appliance giant Haier Group to offer new models to the market. "As an Internet company, Qihoo has more than 100 million users and we are good at online marketing. Both of our specialties can help mobile phone makers explore the market and boost sales," said Zhou Hongyi, chief executive officer of Qihoo 360.
Almost all the devices provided by the Web companies were priced lower than 2,000 yuan ($314), less than half the price of an iPhone 4S.
"The competition in the low-end market is poised to grow as more businesses enter it and telecommunication carriers start to cut subsidies to lower-end smartphone makers," said Hao from the academy of telecomunication research.
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Qualcomm's competitors are not Tencent, Baidu, or Qihoo 360. First, those companies are not really big players in the smartphone market, they are much smaller than Huawei and ZTE. Second, they are phone makers, not chip makers. Qualcomm's real competitors are Spectrum, Mediatek, RockChip and AllWinner, they make and sell much more low-end 3G chips and ARM-based MPUs than Qualcomm in China.
Seems to be a catchup move but given Qualcomm's past successes, this may be a winner. The high end smart phone market is saturated any way so it is inevitable for the chip makers to look else where.