Should Qualcomm Feel Threatened By Apple’s M1 Macs?

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PCMag.com’s lead mobile analyst calls Qualcomm “a little too unbothered by Apple’s M1 Macs”

Qualcomm executives brushed off a question about Apple’s new M1-based Macs during a question-and-answer session at the company’s Snapdragon Summit today, where Qualcomm announced a new flagship smartphone chipset but no upgrades to its year-old chips for PCs… In general, reviews of Qualcomm-powered laptops such as the Microsoft Surface Pro X have celebrated the devices’ long battery life, but lamented problems with third-party apps that were originally coded for Intel processors. That stands in stark contrast to Apple’s new M1-based Macs, which don’t seem to be slowed down as badly by older software…

“It’s a great validation of what we’ve been doing for the past few years and [Qualcomm’s product line] is just going to get stronger and stronger as we broaden our scope,” said Alex Katouzian, Qualcomm SVP for mobile. Katouzian made sure to subtly call out ways in which Qualcomm’s always-connected PCs are superior to Apple’s newest Macs. The Macs lack 4G connectivity and still have poor-quality, 720p front-facing cameras… Katouzian also pointed out that (presumably unlike Apple) Qualcomm addresses “many tiers…and many price points” with its 7c, 8c, and 8cx laptop chipsets, letting Windows laptop makers drive prices well below the MacBook Air’s $999 list price.

The core problem with Qualcomm’s always-connected PC strategy is one that Qualcomm itself can’t fix. While Qualcomm could, and probably will, soon announce a laptop chip that’s based on the new Snapdragon 888 and has a level of raw power closer to Apple’s M1, it’s really down to Microsoft, as well as peripheral and app makers to solve the platform incompatibilities that have frustrated PC reviewers.

Hot Hardware cites Microsoft’s promises of changes come in future updates to Windows 10, arguing that “with the arrival of x64 emulation and a growing library of native Arm64 apps, Windows 10 on Arm is going to be an even more powerful platform.”
From a performance perspective, while running Windows 10 on Arm, these [Snapdragon 8cx] chips may currently be at a disadvantage to the Apple M1, but some day in the not so distant future that might not be the case. We have no doubt that Qualcomm is likely working on a new Windows PC-centric SoC that is based on Snapdragon 888 or similar architecture. Qualcomm has promised a 25 percent uplift in CPU and a 35% lift in GPU performance over the Snapdragon 865, with the Snapdragon 888, which already offers a big boost over the previous gen Snapdragon 855/8cx. So, Qualcomm has the potential to put up a strong showing against the Apple M1, whenever its next-generation Snapdragon PC chip launches.

That may be, but John Gruber at Daring Fireball argues that currently “M1 Macs embarrass all other PCs — all Intel-based Macs, including automobile-priced Mac Pros, and every single machine running Windows or Linux.”

Those machines are just standing around in their underwear now because the M1 stole all their pants. Well, that just doesn’t happen, your instincts tell you. One company, even a company like Apple, doesn’t just embarrass the entire rest of a highly-competitive longstanding industry. But just because something hasn’t happened — or hasn’t happened in a very long while — doesn’t mean it can’t happen. And in this case, it just happened… M1 Macs completely upend what we can and should expect from PCs. It’s a breakthrough along the lines of the iPhone itself in 2007.

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