Snapdragon Sharpens Focus on Mid-Tier Phones

Over the past six months, much of the narrative in the smartphone market has focussed on flagship devices and premium experiences. The launch of top-tier devices in late 2022 and early 2023, including the iPhone 14 family, Samsung Galaxy S23 series and a flurry of Chinese flagships, has been accompanied by intensifying battles between chipmakers.

Qualcomm has long ruled the top end of the smartphone chipset market, underlined by the success of its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform, which was announced in November 2022. In a major design win, the chipset is used in all Samsung Galaxy S23 devices, underlining the healthy position that Qualcomm enjoys in the segment.

However, its challenger MediaTek is a rising threat. The Taiwanese player has grown from a strong base in the low and mid-tier of the smartphone market and is moving up the market in a bid to expand its business. New premium offerings, such as the design win in Oppo’s Find N2 Flip, pose a direct threat to Snapdragon’s most valuable business.

This unfolding rivalry saw a new development recently when Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 platform, targeted at mid-to-high-end smartphones. Although Qualcomm has long offered chipset platforms for the mid-tier, this seems like a concerted effort to deliver the powerful performance that Snapdragon chips are renowned for, at a more accessible price. Importantly, it shows Qualcomm aiming to support its position in the premium tier and to counteract the threat of its rival.

The new chipset follows a tried and tested recipe of cascading premium features from previous flagship chipsets — the Snapdragon 8 series — down to mid-tier designs. Gaming is a notably heavy focus, with the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 packing features such as volumetric rendering and automatic variable rate shading covering the Snapdragon Elite Gaming experience.

But many of the other Snapdragon “experience pillars” are also present as part of Qualcomm’s efforts to bring premium features to mid-range devices, such as Snapdragon Sound, with the promise of lossless audio for music and in-game chat, and Snapdragon Sight, supporting advanced camera features such as 4K HDR video capture.

Alongside this, the platform promises performance and power efficiency improvements. Compared with the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, the new chipset offers a 50% improvement in CPU performance and a 13% boost to power efficiency. Although this is only a slight gain in terms of battery, it’ll be welcomed by users looking to squeeze the most from their smartphones.

As part of the unveiling of the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2, Qualcomm said that the platform will be adopted by brands including Redmi and realme, with commercial devices expected soon. This is a relatively modest list for a firm that usually boasts a huge array of manufacturers queueing up for its premium chipsets, suggesting that it has some work to do to convince device-makers to embrace its latest offering. Price will be a significant factor, especially given the tight margins in the mid-tier.

It’ll be fascinating to see how this dynamic unfolds. MediaTek has made it clear that it wants to play in the premium tier of the chipset market, and Qualcomm has largely appeared comfortable fending off its rival by focussing on innovation and technology leadership. But the latest response from Qualcomm signals a more aggressive direction, taking the battle to MediaTek in the mid-to-high end of the market.

The Snapdragon brand has enjoyed some serious investment recently, with high-profile sponsorship deals and marketing campaigns. Qualcomm is clearly trying to take its well-defined premium offerings to new audiences. Success won’t be easy — we forecast a drop in smartphone shipments in the first half of 2023 because of widespread economic instability. But Qualcomm’s leadership in the premium tier looks set to help the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 bring attractive features to a new segment.