Many times, companies strive to keep things simple or as the moniker goes, K.I.S.S. as in Keep It Simple Stupid. The truth of the matter is that simplicity is indeed one of the easiest ways to keep consumers and industry professionals from being confused.
Currently, Qualcomm identifies their products in two ways. They either give a call to the specific model number which can range from the MSM 7x30 all the way up to the current 8x60 processors. Usually, that x is filled by either a 2 or a 6 indicating whether or not the processor is a GSM (2) or CDMA (6). Once you consider that, you have to remember that customers and consumers really can’t remember the differences between the MSM, APQ or QSD in addition to the whole series of four digit numbering schemes. Furthermore, like in the world of graphics, having a higher number doesn’t always mean that it’s a faster processor because some of the newer processors are actually slower than some of the older ones due to certain designs and clock speeds.
Because of the confusion that can be caused by all of these different naming schemes many people genuinely have a very hard time differentiating the different models. Only a few of us tech press actually stay on top of these things enough to have a remote chance of understanding. As such, Qualcomm has introduced four classes of Snapdragon processors that will essentially put the processors into four groups to simplify the types of processing users can expect from a certain processor based on its class rather than its name.
The four classes are simply named S1, S2, S3 and S4. So when Qualcomm names their products for marketing purposes and carriers/manufacturers want to brag about how fast the processors are they’ll probably say Snapdragon S4 or something along those lines. There are, though, a few problems with this strategy. Currently, consumers are still being marketed to in the GHz unit of measurement as many phones are either advertised as Dual-Core or as 1 GHz or even possibly both. The truth of the matter is that when consumers are told that it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, they’ll have very little to reference that against. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that users will find themselves with a handy dandy chart like the one that Qualcomm has provided us with below.
As you can see from this chart, they are essentially trying to show that each class is simply an upgraded version of the previous class with slightly better functionality. They do this by illustrating the devices that would be an S1 and then moving them up to S3. The best examples appear to be that of the consoles as in going from a Nintendo DS to a PSP to an Xbox 360. Each of these is supposed to illustrate an increase in performance, utility, and graphical capability. The same goes for optics and sound as well. Those appear to be the three primary categories that Qualcomm is attempting to target.
As you can see S4 is actually missing from the chart because those are 'future' processors that one can expect to come out from Qualcomm in the future. There is very little said about the S4 processors on Qualcomm's official blog, but we know that they're likely going to be the LTE Dual-Core processors as well as the Quad-Core processors due out next year. The S4 class will feature a, "New CPU microarchitecture," which claims to deliver a 65% decrease in power consumption while delivers a 150% increase in performance. This new architecture is known as Krait and is the successor to the current family of Scorpion based Snapdragon processors(see? its already getting confusing). The Krait processors will come in dual core and quad core variants with the dual core variants (MSM 8260A, 8270 and 8960) being available from late 3Q 2011 until early 1Q 2013 when the quad core krait variant (MSM 8974) will be introduced in 1Q 2013.
The naming schemes also address an issue that Qualcomm doesn’t quite necessarily want to admit outright. That their snapdragon processors are becoming a brand and that since they are a brand that they will require direct marketing to consumers in addition to manufacturers, distributors, and carriers. This marketing will essentially go against many years of Qualcomm saying that they do not need to market their products. This is as they are beginning to realize that one of their competitors, Nvidia, is probably one of the best marketing companies out there and is doing everything within their power to out market Qualcomm even if they may have a superior product.
Another problem arises as a result of classifying Qualcomm processors. People will begin to realize what kind of performance they can stand to expect out of their phones and tablets as a result of the mobile processor categories. Admittedly, this may be good but it also has room to be bad, as some people will then begin to question why they should be purchasing an S1 class phone when an S4 class phone costs the same to them. It creates a barrier that consumers can actually focus on when they begin to wonder who to blame for their slow performance as they are very unlikely to blame themselves.
The real truth is that you’ve got mainstream, performance, and enthusiast processors for different applications. These naming schemes simply obscure this truth when they inevitably make it easier for consumers to find out that the processor that their phone has in it is inferior. Perhaps that’s a good thing and perhaps it’s not. But we aren’t sure if it’ll matter either way. And hey, maybe consumers will start demanding faster processors out of their handset manufacturers (here’s looking at you Blackberry) and may inadvertently drive up Qualcomm’s ASPs.