Sunday, September 7, 2014

New smartphone models introduced at IFA, Qualcomm dominates

At the IFA consumer electronics trade show, which took place in Berlin last week, many manufacturers announced new smartphone and tablet models.

Based on preliminary specifications, noticeable trends for smartphones include:
  • Smartphones are gravitating to larger screen sizes, with the sweet spot at 5.0 inch for low-end and larger for mid-range and premium devices.
  • Most manufacturers are making the sensible decision of using a 720p screen in mid-range models, which provides acceptable display quality while preserving optimal performance and battery life. Because of memory bandwidth limitations associated with economical SoCs like the Snapdragon 400 and 410 series, using a 1080p display would seriously degrade the user experience because of the negative impact on performance and battery life.
  • Manufacturers serving cost-sensitive markets such as Alcatel, Lenovo and ZTE are introducing 4G LTE network connectivity in several models, mostly using Snapdragon 400 or 410 platform SoCs with integrated 4G modem, impacting MediaTek which previously supplied chips for a large proportion of smartphone models from these manufacturers, and is left supplying only lower-end 3G-only devices.
  • Several new models with Cortex-A53-based SoCs from Qualcomm have been announced, mainly using the cost-effective Snapdragon 410 (quad-core) platform, and HTC announced a model with Snapdragon 615 (pseudo-big.LITTLE octa-core Cortex-A53). A large number of smartphones from most manufacturers, using various configurations of Cortex-A53 cores, targeting the entire spectrum from entry-level to mid-range to premium, are likely to be introduced within the next six months. Apart from Qualcomm, MediaTek is also introducing a competitive product line with comparable specifications.
  • Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 continues to be used for new high-end models, including Moto X (2014) and Sony Xperia Z3.
  • Although one model from Lenovo was announced using the MT6595M, which is not likely to be manufactured in significant volume, there was a noticeable absence of any devices featuring MediaTek's upcoming Cortex-A53-based chip family, such as MT6732, MT6752 and MT6795, despite the fact that these platforms are expected to appear in the market fairly soon (before the end of the year). This probably does not mean that models using these chips are not in development, but rather that the competitive environment and the current sensitivities with Qualcomm royalties and licensing make early announcement of any such models problematic.

Qualcomm encroaching on entry-level segment

In terms of market share, it appears that Qualcomm is taking advantage of its leadership with integrated 4G basebands to encroach onto the low-end that MediaTek has previously dominated. MediaTek's new chips with integrated 4G baseband have not yet reached the market, and it does not look like MediaTek's temporary stand-alone 4G modem solution (MT6290 used in combination with MT6582 or MT6592) is seeing significant traction.

Despite the backdrop of the complications related to the Chinese investigation into Qualcomm's royalty and licensing practices and alleged monopoly, it seems Qualcomm has reasserted its dominance in the market in the short term. It also appears that, with billions of dollars of capital at hand for purchase commitments, Qualcomm has been able to retain sufficient manufacturing capacity at TSMC, where the large production ramp for Apple (which has made similar large purchase commitments) has exacerbated the tight supply situation since earlier this year, with MediaTek's supply of chips likely to be squeezed as a result of the shortage. In July, DigiTimes reported that MediaTek had negotiated a 10% increase in wafer starts for Q3 at TSMC, and in August it reported that MediaTek was seeking additional 28nm capacity at UMC, both indications of a very tight supply situation.

List of models announced at IFA

Some of the new smartphone models announced at IFA:

  • Liquid Jade, a compact smartphone with 5.0" screen with MediaTek MT6582.
  • One Touch Hero 2, a 6.0" "phablet" with octa-core MT6592 and LTE modem (probably MT6290).
  • Pop 2 series, with Snapdragon 400 or 410 with 4G.
  • Idol 2, probably with Mediatek MT6582.
  • Idol 2 S with Snapdragon 400 or 410.
  • Idol 2 Mini with a 1.2 GHz quad-core SoC with 3G.
  • Idol 2 Mini S with Snapdragon 400 or 410.
  • Ascend Mate 7, a 6.0" 1080p "phablet" with HiSilicon Kirin 925 chip.
  • Ascend G7, 5.5" 720p mid-range with Snapdragon 410.
  • Honor 3C Play, 5.0" value with MediaTek MT6582.
  • HTC Desire 510, a low-end 4.7" (480p) model with Snapdragon 410 (quad-core Cortex-A53).
  • HTC Desire 820, 5.5" 720p screen, mainstream with Snapdragon 615 (octa-core Cortex-A53).
  • VIBE X2, 5.0" high-end with MediaTek MT6595M (octa-core big.LITTLE). However, this high-end chip is unlikely to be produced in significant volume, being superseded by the MT6795 (octa-core Cortex-A53) in the near future.
  • VIBE Z2, 5.5" 720p mid-range, Snapdragon 410.
  • LG G3 S, 5.0" 720p mid-range with Snapdragon 400.
  • Moto G (2014), 5.0" 720p screen, refresh of last year's Moto G, with same Snapdragon 400 SoC with 3G modem and primarily targeted at cost-sensitive markets including India and Brazil. A subsequent model with updated specs (such as better processor and 4G) is likely to be introduced later as a successor to the old Moto G that will more specifically target Western markets.
  • Moto X (2014), 5.2" 1080p screen, high-end with Snapdragon 801.
  • Lumia 730/735, 4.7", low/mid-range with Snapdragon 400.
  • Lumia 830, 5.0"  with Snapdragon 400.
  • Note 4, 5.7" QHD (1440p) high-end with Snapdragon 805 (N910S) or Exynos 5433 (N910C).
  • Note Edge, 5.6" curved screen (high-end) with Snapdragon 805.
  • Sony Xperia Z3, 5.2" 1080p high-end with Snapdragon 801.
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, 4.6" 720p high-end with Snapdragon 801.
  • Sony Xperia E3, 4.5" low/mid-range with Snapdragon 400.
  • Blade Vec 3G, 5.0" low-end with MT6582.
  • Blade Vec 4G, 5.0" low-end with Snapdragon 400.

Sources: GSMArenaPocketnow, Alcatel, DigiTimes

Updated September 9, 2014.

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