Qualcomm CEO unveils the first Snapdragon 820 smartphone, while showcasing the new chip's automotive potential.

CES 2016

2016 is sure to be an important year for Qualcomm, and the biggest Android chip maker kicked off the year with its CES 2016 press conference in Las Vegas today. Top billing was given to the new Snapdragon 820 processor, widely expected to make it into the next wave of high-end Android smartphones.

Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf described the 820 as "the most powerful, most advanced SoC in the world," with the new Kryo CPU architecture purportedly delivering up to twice the performance of Krait, Qualcomm's most advanced 32-bit architecture. Snapdragon 820 is currently being designed into some 80 products Mollenkopf says, up from 60 in November 2015.

Qualcomm

"The most powerful, most advanced SoC in the world."

The first of these to break cover comes from Chinese firm LeTV. The Le Max Pro was shown on stage at Qualcomm's CES presser, sporting a metal unibody design and rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. The phone is also the first to use Snapdragon Sense ID, which the Qualcomm boss described as "the first ultrasonic fingerprint sensor." This new technology allows manufacturers to more easily implement fingerprint scanning under different material types, such as metal or glass.

And in another smartphone first, LeTV has implemented gigabit-capable 802.11ad Wifi in its Snapdragon 820 phone. You'll still need a new router to use that fancy new Wi-Fi, though those are getting announced here at CES 2016 as well.

Qualcomm also dedicated a great deal of time to automotive tech in today's press conference, including the announcement that Audi will implement its Snapdragon 602A automotive SoC in its 2017 model vehicles.

However the most impressive demo spot was reserved for the automotive variants of the 820, dubbed Snapdragon 820A and Snapdragon 820Am. Steve Mollenkopf describes Snapdragon 820A as a blend of technologies similar to the regular 820, only "optimized for the form factor and requirements of auto applications," and the power of the chip was plain to see in the demo rig on-stage.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm showed Snapdragon 820A powering a rig with four displays, including a 4K infotainment touchscreen and HD "hybrid instrument cluster." The main instrument cluster was able to show smoothly animated speedometers or 3D navigation info, while the infotainment touchscreen allowed the driver to set navigation markers. Meanwhile in the back, passengers can follow route information or stream media over LTE.

The company was keen to promote Snapdragon 820A's ability to deliver "multiple concurrent capabilities," in contrast to smartphones, which generally focus on one screen at a time. This even extends to managing multiple interior cameras — one demo involved a driver-facing camera being used to track when a driver might be becoming distracted.

Robotics

And as vehicles' computer systems become more personalized, Qualcomm showed how driver settings and preferences could be customized depending on whose smartphone is paired with the in-car system.

In other developments, Qualcomm announced the first Snapdragon Flight-based drone from Chinese firm Tencent. Dubbed "Ying," the product will include high-res video streaming over LTE, as well as autonomous navigation thanks to Qualcomm's drone technology.

We'll begin to see more Snapdragon 820 products at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month. Until then, the details revealed at CES serve as a taster of what we can expect from Qualcomm in 2016.