2018 has been the year of AI on smartphones with companies going gaga over their implementation of Artificial Intelligence in their cameras, battery tech, app launching optimization, and what not. Huawei’s Kirin series of chipsets, the Kirin 970 mainly, was what pushed AI on smartphones to the next level by integrating a dedicated NPU or Neural Processing Unit onto the SoC which would adapt to usage patterns of consumers and would provide a personalized experience.
The Kirin 970, however, was exclusive to Huawei/Honor devices which meant consumers who use smartphones from a different manufacturer couldn’t experience the AI goodness in completeness. Of course, Qualcomm, one of the largest producers of smartphone chipsets did integrate some AI specific features in their flagship Snapdragon 845 mobile platform with the help of the Hexagon 680 DSP, but there was still a lack of a dedicated NPU like the one found on the Kirin 970.
However, some speculations say Qualcomm is now working on a dedicated NPU for its next-gen flagship processor, which going by the current nomenclature should be called the Snapdragon 855, but some sources point towards a renamed chip with the moniker Snapdragon 8150, specifically meant to be used in vehicles and for automotive purposes. This also becomes more evident with the fact that the codename “SDM855AU” was encountered multiple times which raises the question if “AU” points towards the automotive sector. The chipset is also said to be manufactured on the 7nm scale compared to the 10nm manufacturing process of the current gen Snapdragon 845.
The whole advantage of having a dedicated Neural Processing Unit is the fact that AI-related queries on inputs are processed directly by the NPU which relieves the CPU of some extra load, hence leading to better performance as the load is shared.
AI is the next big thing in the field of technology, and Qualcomm seems to be heading in the right direction. Even though we might see the implementation of a dedicated NPU only on flagship chips, for now, it’s just a matter of time we start seeing every smartphone SoC come out with some AI capabilities.