Qualcomm Improving the Adaptive Power of Smartphones With Their Zeroth Platform

It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking up the potential of the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC, which promised to enable all manner of 4K viewing, streaming and recording on mobile devices. But, we don’t need to belabor the point about 4K being of questionable use on mobile devices—outside of 4K recording, which was possible even before the 810, a 4K display or 4K playback on a mobile device isn’t really desirable. Still, the bump in power and jump to eight cores was interesting in its own right, promising efficiency and performance gains for more complex games and apps.

But, technology doesn’t stay idle long. Just a few months after that announcement, it’s time to start talking about the Snapdragon 820, which will be the first SoC to run Qualcomm’s Zeroth platform. While the 810 promised improvements to things you could already do with a smartphone, the 820 and Zeroth are going to allow smartphones to do things they’ve never done before, particularly in the realm of adaptive and predictive responses. Your smartphone’s about to get to know you a lot better.

Qualcomm calls Zeroth their first cognitive computing platform, a carefully worded phrase molded by people who definitely didn’t want to say the two scary letters. But, AI is implied when we talk about cognitive computing, and if Zeroth isn’t going to be quite as smart as Scarlett Johansson in Her, it’s at least a step in that direction.

The platform will tweak everything your smartphone does, starting with how you take pictures. Zeroth will enable your smartphone to recognize what you’re taking a photo of and adjust settings accordingly. That can mean recognizing faces based on photos from your contacts list or recognizing that you’re taking another food picture. Tweaking the settings is just the beginning, though—with your consent, your smartphone will be able to scan those pictures, then immediately cue up whatever app or service you usually use after you take a picture, depending on what’s in the picture. Take a picture of your friends, and your phone might cue up a new Facebook post for you to edit. You won’t be doing anything new, you’ll just have to tap on your smartphone less to do it.

There’s a lot more to Zeroth, but it’s more or less in the same vein as the camera example. The platform will enable your smartphone to do more autonomously—ideally, doing things you would have done, anyway. To do that, the platform will take in any data it can to make its decisions—GPS data, ambient sounds, speech recognition, sound identification and localization, your facial expressions, other people’s facial expressions, your past usage habits, and the list goes on long enough to become pretty disconcerting, even if it’s still a little difficult to pinpoint why it’s so disconcerting. Skynet’s not active yet, after all.

Other side benefits include optimized network connectivity and more personalized authentication methods, far outside just passwords or fingerprint scanners. But, to do all that, Zeroth will need some serious hardware, and that’s where the Snapdragon 820 SoC comes in. This time, Qualcomm has taken matters into its own hands. Before, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs used processors made by ARM. Starting with the 820, Qualcomm will be using their own 64-bit Kryo CPU in their chipsets, which has been developed in-house along with the Zeroth platform.

We won’t see smartphones running on the Snapdragon 820 until later this year, but when we do, you can expect predictive and adaptive capabilities to be a big part of any marketing push for those smartphones. It’s getting harder to find ways to differentiate one high-end smartphone from another, especially when you narrow that down to just Android devices. With Samsung ditching Qualcomm for their own chipset with the S6, smartphone hardware could become a very interesting thing to start watching again.