Today, only a few smartphone manufacturers, like Apple and Samsung, can produce smartphones using their own processors. Other market players depend on suppliers like Qualcomm or Mediatek for chip supply.
But little by little, other manufacturers could follow suit by developing their own SoCs for smartphones. A few days ago, our colleagues from Android Authority relayed a publication from Digitimes which mentioned the projects that the Xiaomi and Oppo brands would have in order to reduce their dependence on Qualcomm and Mediatek chips.
According to this article, the two manufacturers plan to market smartphones using homemade chips, and compatible with 5G networks of the Sub-6Ghz type either at the end of 2021 or at the beginning of 2022.
Xiaomi has already shown what it is capable of
At the moment, these are just rumors. And therefore, caution is always in order. Still, it’s worth noting that Xiaomi has already made it clear that it wants to reduce its reliance on vendors when it comes to chips for smartphones.
Indeed, Xiaomi has already developed a chip, called Surge S1, which was used by the Mi 5c launched in 2017. And recently, the Chinese brand also lifted the veil on a chip called Surge C1, which is used by the Mi Mix Fold. The Surge C1 chip does not replace Qualcomm’s SoCs, since the Mi Mix Fold uses the Snapdragon 888. However, it is an image processing chip that works in complementarity with that of Quamcomm.
As Xiaomi explains: “Mi Mix Fold launches the Surge C1 processor – a professional image processing chip developed by Xiaomi. The result of two years of development and an R & D investment of 140 million RMB (editor’s note, more than 18 million euros), this chip offers exceptionally high performance while occupying a reduced processor and storage space. This allows it to handle an improved 3A algorithm and low-light focus capabilities for more accurate autofocus, autoexposure, and auto white balance, dramatically improving image quality. ”
In any case, the use of this Surge C1 chip on the Mi Mix Fold shows Xiaomi’s desire to have more control over its hardware.
Regarding Oppo, other rumors are already circulating about a plan called “Mariana” which would consist of developing SoCs for Oppo smartphones, but also for models of the OnePlus and Realme brands. And to lead this project, Oppo would compare on a former technical director of Qualcomm.
It should also be noted that in addition to Xiaomi and Oppo, Google would also develop its own chips for smartphones.
Semiconductor shortage and US sanctions on Huawei
In any case, these various rumors are circulating while currently, the smartphone market is facing a shortage of semiconductors. This situation has already led Xiaomi to declare that it could increase tariffs in order to compensate for the additional costs caused by the shortage. Moreover, for Chinese manufacturers, the use of their own SoCs would also allow them to reduce the risks associated with the trade war between Beijing and Washington.
In 2020, new US sanctions against Huawei caused a shortage of processors for smartphones at the manufacturer. Indeed, these oblige non-American companies, but which use American technologies to apply for a permit before being able to supply Huawei. And the company that makes Kirin chips for Huawei is among those affected by these measures.