Qualcomm AI: Were Qualcomm’s Announcements at MWC Why Apple Killed its Car?

At Mobile World Congress this week, Qualcomm made a number of surprising and impressive announcements surrounding AI and Automotive. The announcements made it look like the next generation of phones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform would outperform Apple’s limited and often disappointing AI efforts significantly in both smartphones and cars. 

This is why I think the timing of Apple’s announcement this week that it would deep six its car effort (which really was on life support anyway) to focus on AI going forward was interesting. Apple realized it couldn’t catch up with Qualcomm or NVIDIA on cars and was likely to fall significantly behind Qualcomm-based phones within a few months, so it needed to shift focus and finally invest in AI before the company becomes obsolete. 

I expect a lot of tech companies will not survive the breaking AI wave as it advances. Clearly, Qualcomm plans to make it out the back end, while Apple decided it couldn’t afford to chase Tesla and Qualcomm and pivoted to the greater potential catastrophe. 

Let’s talk about what Qualcomm announced that scared Apple (and may prove to be a warning for PC chip makers, as well). 

Qualcomm’s AI Announcements at Mobile World Congress (MWC)

Qualcomm announced AI capabilities that crossed next-generation PCs, smartphones, software-defined vehicles (like those Apple was developing and just killed), extended reality products (like Apple’s VR Pro), IoT and other smart efforts (like smart cities). This implies a level of interoperation between the devices that would be unmatched by any other vendor because only Qualcomm exists in every single one of these classes. Wouldn’t you want the same AI interface and experience across every AI-enabled device you have? Wouldn’t it be great to give an AI assistant like Alexa or Siri a command that could extend to every smart device, vehicle, or smart structure without having to learn separate commands or find yet another different assistant to work with? 

This is the competitive promise Qualcomm seemed to make. If only one AI solution exists across all your devices, Qualcomm is positioned to be that solution. Competitors either don’t do smartphones or don’t do the other stuff, including Apple. If Qualcomm pulls this off, it could become the dominant device AI provider and Apple, because it doesn’t really get along with Qualcomm, would be the odd man out much like when it was just a PC vendor and Microsoft took the PC market away from it. Apple almost went under (and I doubt Steve Jobs will come back and save it this time, though, in a way, with AI, he kind of could, but I’ll leave that for another column).  

Qualcomm also announced its new AI hub that offers over 75 models for those wishing a fast time-to-market for AI products (making Apple’s war with Qualcomm look suicidal, by the way). These models that are also available on Hugging Face and Microsoft’s GitHub allow developers to bring to market AI solutions in a fraction of the time or cost that otherwise would be needed. Most companies still don’t fully understand AI, and this offering provides significant help for developers trying to survive and thrive during the advancement of AI, making Qualcomm the critical partner to have for most of them.

And finally, Qualcomm shared its massive investment in AI research which helps ensure that if developers invest in Qualcomm’s platform, they’ll get more platform access than if they go with anyone else. It makes Qualcomm a no brainer partner in line with NVIDIA which still dominates the segment, particularly when it comes to training. 

Wrapping Up:

I think that Qualcomm’s announcements at MWC caused Apple to panic and to suddenly realize every one of its products was at risk because Apple never took AI seriously and competitors using Qualcomm’s offerings were going to end up with vastly better AI-driven offerings. Many of us believe that AI will define the future of tech products and Qualcomm is on board to assure that happens. Given it takes decades to spin up an AI capability organically, Apple is under immediate pressure and doesn’t have a lot of time to address this problem unless it licenses from Qualcomm which, compared to going out of business, might not be a bad decision to make. 

Of course, given how Apple treated Qualcomm before, I’d tell Apple to pound sand, but Qualcomm has always been very forgiving. Let’s see if Apple can make the right decision here (I doubt it). Regardless, Qualcomm’s announcements mean that the non-Apple smartphones and Qualcomm-based cars, PCs, IoT devices, and other smart things are likely to define the inference side of the coming AI wave.