by Juliana Kenny
The semiconductor market has had its ups and downs over the last few years as the internet of things, wearables, mobile, and other technologies change the way chipmakers had approached their industry before. It’s no secret giants like Intel have struggled to keep up with the mobile game whereas others such as Qualcomm have had more success. But chip hardware will always be in demand, and semiconductor manufacturers have that fact on their side, despite the fluctuating forecasts for the industry’s global revenue, and amidst changing consumer and enterprise needs. This week in particular, Qualcomm has revealed some developments that are indicative of its intent to move forward in new, disruptive tech.
Qualcomm unveiled a family of processors targeting the wearables market this week, dubbed Snapdragon Wear. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 system-on-chip is “the first in a new product family designed to bring new and enhanced wearable experiences to consumers” according to the company. Raj Talluri, senior vice president, product management for Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. said in a statement:
With the introduction of the Snapdragon Wear platform and Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, Qualcomm Technologies is well-positioned to extend its progress in wearables technology by enabling sleek designs, long battery life, smart sensing, and always- connected experiences in the next generation of wearable devices.
The company seems to be looking ahead to what customers are going to want in terms of wearable capability, and has designed different versions of Snapdragon Wear to support Bluetooth/Wi-Fi or a 4G LTE/3G cellular connection.
Qualcomm has also reinforced its position in the smartphone system-on-chip space with its X16 series modem. The Snapdragon X16 modem promises lightning speeds, although it remains to be seen how network operators will be able to deliver even if devices carry the X16. These developments are in stark difference to Intel’s offerings in terms of mobile; the company has struggled to see big success with its 7360 LTE modem while Qualcomm’s X16 series modem is capable of 1Gbit/sec download speeds. Not only are these products from Qualcomm superior, they demonstrate Qualcomm’s intent to be present in the future of wearables and high-speed mobile devices.
Indeed, many believe Intel would do well to pull out of the mobile chip market altogether considering the billions it has spent on grabbing its piece of the pie only to significantly struggle to get a sliver. The company did report in late 2015 that it will be scaling down its mobile operating expenses. But its multi-year, multi-billion dollar investments in gaining ground in mobile have essentially proven fruitless in comparison to companies like Qualcomm. The future is uncertain for Intel in terms of where it will take its mobile operations and how it will proceed with chips for wearables and IoT.
But even with all of its forward-looking work, Qualcomm isn’t set for life. A Forbes report published this week explains that the company not only lost Samsung as a customer for the year, it had “difficulty collecting licensing royalties from China’s emerging smartphone giants, dealt with rumors that its top-of-the-line chips were overheating and narrowly escaped an effort to break up the company from activist hedge fund Jana Partners.” Its revenue fell %5 to $25.3 billion and net income dropped 34% to $5.3 billion.
These fluctuations are not necessarily aided by disparities in research forecasts. Last year Gartner reported that global weaknesses in economies contributed to a projected lowering of revenue for the worldwide chip market. Yet other firms report steady if small increases in value for chips through 2019. While Qualcomm and Intel are by no means the only chip giants to watch, their ups and downs do serve as a barometer of sorts for an industry that has been turned on its head by the decline of the worldwide PC industry.