I sit up at night and dream about the next great mobile phones. That’s the reason I started this blog back in 2010, and it’s the reason I spend nearly all my free time browsing the latest happenings on tech websites. 2011 was an exciting year for the mobile industry. Dual core processors were all the rage, LTE hit two carriers, and tablets gained even more traction in the PC market. One of the biggest contributors to that excitement was the tight race between mobile chip manufacturers. NVIDIA released the first usable dual-core phones with their Tegra 2 line and made some decent headway into the market. Qualcomm and Texas Instruments launched similarly successful dual-core SoCs. Even Apple and Samsung had their own successful dual-core chips: the A5 and Exynos 4210.
This year, the competition won’t be so fun. Unexpectedly, the folks at Qualcomm have already managed to pull off a win in 2012. With the announcement of the first set of Snapdragon S4 devices coming to market at Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm shoved the competition out of the way. The Snapdragon S4 is a winner, because it provides next-gen performance and support for 4G LTE modems. While the Tegra 3 may edge out the S4 in a GPU contest, there’s not going to be a Tegra 3 device launched on Verizon this year. There won’t be a Tegra 3 flagship launched on AT&T. Since NVIDIA failed to build an LTE modem in with their Tegra 3, they’ll be yielding much of the world market share to Qualcomm for 2012. In the United States, T-Mobile will likely be the only carrier repping a bunch of Tegra 3 phones, because they won’t have LTE coverage until 2013. Sprint is gearing up for an LTE launch next month, AT&T’s already at 200 million covered, and Verizon’s way past them both. Without LTE, the Tegra 3 simply won’t be a success on the American market.
What about our old pal Texas Instruments? Well, it turns out the folks at TI won’t be releasing a next-generation processor until the very end of 2012. In Q4 2012, we should see the first OMAP 5 devices hit the market. Sure, they’ll be extremely fast and come with LTE ready to go. But, they’ll be way too late.
Samsung and Apple will both launch flagship phones with their next-generation processors. The next Galaxy S III is already rumored to have the quad-core Exynos 4412 with built-in LTE. And, it’s probable that we could see the Apple A5X or A6 in an iPhone 5 this year, too. But, Apple and Samsung almost always use their chips proprietarily. In other words, you won’t see a new Motorola Android device with an Apple A5X inside. Likewise, most customers will probably never see a non-Samsung device sporting the Exynos processors. There are exceptions in China with companies like Meizu, but their reach is limited.
So, we’re left only with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and S4 Pro. The S4 Pro comes out next quarter, and it’ll boast a GPU that finally defeats its quad-core competition. Internationally, the Tegra 3 will survive in markets that aren’t closing in on 4G LTE availability. We’re not saying Qualcomm’s chips will outperform the competitors in the CPU and GPU departments. But, with 4G spreading to Canada, Europe, and other markets, Qualcomm’s got a lock on some potentially huge numbers in 2012.