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AI may breathe new life into smartphones

Qualcomm Inc. President and CEO Cristiano Amon speaks during the company’s press event for CES 2022 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 4, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, is being held in person from January 5-7, with some companies deciding to participate virtually only or canceling their attendance due to concerns over the major surge in COVID-19 cases.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

The CEO of U.S. chip giant Qualcomm thinks artificial intelligence could give the smartphone market a fresh lease on life.

Speaking in an interview with CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal on Tuesday, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said he sees significant opportunity in AI ahead, and that the company’s upcoming Snapdragon Summit in October could lead to major developments in mobile technology.

“The [Snapdragon] Summit is going to be around incredible use cases that we’re seeing from our OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and phones and … could create a new upgrade cycle for phones.”

“We we don’t know the timing, but it’s definitely happening,” Amon said.

Smartphone sales have depreciated this year as consumers have gotten a lot more cost-conscious.

Many are opting not to upgrade their devices, as they see little difference in the phones of today versus older models in the market with already sophisticated cameras and processors.

In 2022, global smartphone sales tumbled 11.3% year-over-year to 1.21 billion, the lowest level since 2013, according to data from market research firm IDC.

“You see what Microsoft’s doing for PCs and think about the ability to run ChatGPT and other models locally,” Amon said. “So, as those things get to the hands of consumers, I think it’s going to be material … we just have to wait.”

Amon said Qualcomm is taking a different path to its arch semiconductor rival Nvidia in the AI space — one that involves bringing AI to smartphones and other devices rather than data centers, an area that Nvidia’s more focused on.

“We’re in a slightly different segment … I think we see an opportunity,” Amon said. “I think that’s going to get reflected once that opportunity materializes. You have not yet materialized it.”

“But it’s important for you to see the activity. You’ve heard a lot about Gen AI. And you see right now with ChhatGPT and those things [and] what’s happening to data center — we’re doing something different. We’re actually bringing AI to the device.”

We're bringing AI to devices — unlike Nvidia, Qualcomm CEO says

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