Why are so many mobile processor features unused?

If there’s one thing that helps update my smartphone’s excitation meter every year, it’s a new system on a chip (SoC). As the brain of your smartphone, new SoC features can revolutionize the way you use your phone, from the introduction of multiple cameras and machine learning intelligence to 5G networking and better frequencies. images for games. And much more, of course.

However, many of the promised SoC features, even those that have been around for several years now, have yet to make it into mainstream handsets. There are a number of reasons for this, such as manufacturer priorities and the need for wider market adoption, but in any case, recent smartphone chipsets have rarely reached their full potential. This is obviously something to consider when thinking about a potential purchase and when following the chipset hype more generally.

Features that I would have liked to see

Snapdragon Insiders Rear Camera Housing Smartphone

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

There’s a long list of potential features that we haven’t seen yet, so let’s narrow it down to a few of the most promising of recent years.

The photography and video functionality has been a steady area of ​​ups and downs. For example, the 2020 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 promised simultaneous capture from multiple cameras, 4K capture from two or more cameras, and unlimited video at 960 fps. While one or two phones may have experimented with these features, they were far from being the mainstays of the flagship smartphone market of 2021. Qualcomm pointed out to us that there are no financial hurdles to the market. implementation of its demonstration SoC features – it is up to the product partners to choose whether to implement them. It should be noted that the hardware and software applications of the camera should be designed with these features in mind. However, even its own smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders failed to maximize the potential of the company’s camera suite.

To verify: Mega smartphone shootout 2021: best camera phones of the year tested

Likewise, AV1 video decoding was absent from Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series, despite supporting Samsung’s Exynos 2100 chipset, in order to maintain product parity with Qualcomm. We’ve seen similar tradeoffs with Galaxy S10 8K video recording, with the Exynos 9820 offering support ahead of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 – although 8K video isn’t much more widely supported in the space. headlight.

You may also remember the MediaTek Dimensity 1200 software ray tracing and 168Hz display support which has not yet been found in a consumer smartphone. Then there are GPU driver updates and gaming optimizations through Google Play, a Qualcomm idea unveiled in 2019 – another great feature, in principle. However, the tangible benefits are yet to be felt for most consumers, and the list of supported devices remains woefully thin in the field. These examples are clearly a case of lower priority features for product manufacturers, as they offer minimal differentiation for consumers, at least for now.

Manufacturers rarely exploit the best SoC capabilities available, making it harder to get excited about next-gen possibilities.

Then there are examples of technologies that require additional product support, such as accessories. The long-awaited arrival of aptX Adaptive and Bluetooth LE Audio are examples where we still wait for headphones and speakers to fill in the missing pieces. Likewise, we could say the same about 6E Wi-Fi routers and mobile games that use the latest and greatest rendering techniques. So we can’t always blame manufacturers for features we can’t use. Early assistance is sometimes essential to encourage wider adoption.

Despite this, there’s an ever-growing list of SoC-based features we’ve heard a lot about, but never got our hands on. And that’s not to mention the countless hype trains of augmented reality, 5G, and other emerging use cases that have come and gone over the past few years. With some of the best SoC features in widespread use, it’s getting harder and harder to feel excited about the next-gen possibilities. I would definitely love to see many more manufacturers embrace the latest and greatest SoC capabilities, as it would certainly help reinvigorate industry flagships and midsize products.

Not all features are a winner

Google Tensor SoC chip

Of course, not all SoC features are meant to revolutionize the way we use our phones. The more steady progression of improvements is always welcome and we have certainly seen many examples of this in recent years. Gradual improvement in picture quality, improvements in machine learning, and gaming performance have definitely made recent smartphones better and more powerful than ever, although we haven’t seen any devices yet. pushing boundaries in all directions at once.

For example, by taking advantage of the Snapdragon 888’s AI zoom capabilities and simultaneous recording of multiple cameras, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra has surpassed the features you find in other smartphone camera packages. And, of course, gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 5 offer enhanced performance modes, stereo sound, premium DAC, and fast charging features that you won’t necessarily find on many other phones. Sadly, we haven’t yet seen a phone that combines all of this and more in one package.

Read more: The best Android phones

While they haven’t maximized the existing capabilities of the SoC, product manufacturers are increasingly turning to custom hardware for product differentiation. For example, the Google Tensor SoC in the Pixel 6 series might not have all the bells, whistles, or even the peak potential of its latest rivals. However, it’s designed to fuel some pretty specific use cases and Google is leveraging them to create unique experiences with its latest smartphones. Features like Magic Eraser and real-time voice dictation on the device are powerful and impressive new features with tangible benefits. Likewise, Chinese OEMs Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi have developed custom image signal processors in pursuit of cutting-edge imaging capabilities and features.

I can’t wait to see what comes next with next-gen SoCs, but recent launches have tempered my expectations.

When it comes to next-gen SoCs, such as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Dimensity 9000, there is clearly more potential than ever before thanks to improved performance, AI and intelligence. imaging in particular. I can’t wait to see what manufacturers can do with next-gen SoCs, but recent launches and trends in custom hardware have tempered my expectations for the 2022 flagship launches. The technology is already here, it belongs. manufacturers to integrate these features into compelling use cases for flagship smartphones and other cheaper ones. Hopefully we will all be pleasantly surprised.


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