Qualcomm teases Snapdragon 820, announces new fingerprint, 'cognitive computing' technologies

BARCELONA, Spain--Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), the world's biggest supplier of processors for smartphones, offered a glimpse at the features of its next-generation flagship processor, the Snapdragon 820. The company also announced two major new products, an ultrasonic-based fingerprint-scanning technology and a "cognitive computing" platform the company said will give users' phones the ability to learn.

During a press event here at the Mobile World Congress trade show, Qualcomm President Derek Aberle said the company's new products indicate that Qualcomm continues to innovate in a wide range of areas. Such efforts will remain key for Qualcomm as it works to fend off chipset rivals such as Intel and MediaTek while recovering from an almost $1 billion fine levied by China against Qualcomm's patent-licensing practices (Aberle reiterated that the company does not expect other countries to take similar action).

Qualcomm did not offer much detail on its new flagship chipset, the Snapdragon 820, other than to say it will feature a custom Kryo 64-bit design and be built using the FinFET process and that Qualcomm will begin sampling the chip in the second half of this year.

Qualcomm most likely hopes to regain some of its momentum in the chipset market with the 820 following its loss of a major part of Samsung's business. Samsung replaced Qualcomm silicon with its own Exynos processor in its newly announced Galaxy S6 smartphone. Most likely as a result, Qualcomm lowered its outlook for the second half of its current fiscal year.

Here at MWC, Qualcomm also announced its new Sense ID 3D Fingerprint Technology. The company said the ultrasonic-based approach to fingerprint scanning can scan through various contaminants that might be present on users' fingers, such as sweat, hand lotion and condensation--that development would be notable, considering that such elements often throw off Apple's Touch ID fingerprint-scanning service. Qualcomm added that the technology can scan a fingerprint through glass, aluminum, stainless steel, sapphire and plastics. Qualcomm said its fingerprint-scanning technology will support user authentication via the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance Universal Authentication Framework (UAF) specification.

"We think there's a big future for this technology going forward," Aberle said.

Separately, Qualcomm announced its new Zeroth Platform, which the company said runs "cognitive computing" that the company said will enable users' phones to learn user preferences. The platform can run locally on Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor and does not need to connect to a network to work. The company said the platform can power a wide range of services, including dynamic audio that can adapt itself to noisy environments, and speech and audio recognition.

In a brief demonstration of Zeroth during the company's press event, Qualcomm showed off a Snapdragon-powered tablet that was able to instantly recognize the presenter's face and display his name in a word bubble above his head--the company said users could "teach" their phone to recognize pictures of specific people.

"It will allow your device to personalize itself over time," Aberle said.

In other Qualcomm news, the company said its Snapdragon 400 platform powers "the majority" of Android Wear devices. The company also said it has developed technology that can support the handover of voice and video calls from Wi-Fi to LTE and back again. Finally, Qualcomm also said it plans to add user-interface elements from the Android-based Cyanogen platform to its Qualcomm Reference Design (QRD) for those handset makers that want to make use of it.

For more:
- see these two Qualcomm releases
- see this Verge article

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