Mobile Vendors and Chip Manufacturers Join the New Battlefield in AI

Updated:2017/12/28 16:50

It is an indisputable fact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become the leading direction of technology development in the coming years. AI mobile phone is expected to become a turning point of the market, especially with the decelerated growth of the global smartphone market and the shrinking of domestic smartphone market.

Faced with further reduced global smartphone market in 2018, the marketing strategy of mobile phone vendors, namely keeping the same price while improving device functions, will be followed by chip suppliers, elements including new applications, new features and new designs will be adopted to meet the customers’ requirements, while AI will be the focus of competition, mainstream chip makers including Apple, Samsung, Huawei, MediaTek, Qualcomm and Spreadtrum will comprehensively struggle to get first-mover advantages.

Mobile phone vendors: AI development should be combined with specific applications

With the development of AI, some mobile phone giants have launched smartphones with built-in AI technologies. Huawei has released the world's first AI mobile phone chip Kirin 970, while Apple iPhoneX is also equipped with AI chip "A11 bionic neural engine".

In the release conference of iPhone 8 and iPhone X, Apple specified that the A11 chip is integrated with a hardware designed for machine learning --- Neural Engine, with up to 600 billion operations per second. It will improve the performances of Apple devices in dealing with tasks requiring AI, such as facial and voice recognition.

In May, Samsung equipped GalaxyS8 with self-developed AI platform Bixby and began to provide "BixbyVoice" services. In the Samsung Developer Conference 2017 held in October in San Francisco, Samsung upgraded its smart voice platform and launched the Bixby2.0 version, it also shared the software development kit (SDK) to global developers. Bixby2.0 could be used in a variety of devices, including smart TVs and smart refrigerators of Samsung.

On November 8, Samsung formally pushed Bixby voice assistant to selected users of GalaxyS8/S8+ and GalaxyNote8 in China, the users could speak Chinese to Bixby, while Bixby can recognize the voice characteristics to unlock the mobile phone, send text messages, search for music and pictures.

When talking about how to achieve integration of AI with mobile phones, the dean of Samsung China Research Institute Zhang Daijun said in the AI World 2017 that the development of AI should be integrated with application scenarios and cultivates consumption habits of users, which is a gradual process. The general manager of Vivo software development Zhou Wei also said, "the AI technology must be connected with customers and make smart judgments of customer usage scenarios."

"In AI, Vivo's strategy is not to do AI just because others are working on that, it bases on customers’ demands and products. After judging the needs and pain points of the customers, we found taking pictures ranked in the first place, there are thousands of scenes in taking pictures, especially on shooting against the light, we found that with the evolution of devices, optimum of algorithms and the addition of AI, the backlighting photographs could be made very clear; the next pain point is the continuous smooth performance of the mobile phone, as well as energy saving and long battery life. We found that AI is especially suitable for doing such training in battery life, it could save more than 20% energy." Zhou Wei said.

In addition to releasing the first AI mobile phone chip Kirin 970, Huawei has reached comprehensive strategic cooperation with Baidu in the AI field, which includes three aspects, the first is natural interaction in voice, semantic, vision and VR, which is the basis for AI function. The second is to build an open platform of AI based on Huawei HiAI and Baidu PaddlePaddle deep learning framework. The third is to strengthen cooperation in search, information flow and other areas, namely using more Baidu content and services in Huawei devices, such as Baidu search, Baidu Mobile and Baidu map. It is expected that Baidu’s AI ability can be completely exhibited in Huawei mobile phones after the cooperation.

AI competition in chip manufacturers: customization is emphasized

It is predicted that global AI chipset market will exceed $12.2 billion by 2025, while China’s New Generation AI Development Plan predicts that domestic intelligent computing chip market will reach CNY10 billion by 2020.

Faced with the continuously differentiated requirements of new generation smartphones, global mobile phone chip suppliers have turned to emerging AI application designs, by integrating with multiplex customized algorithms in the CPU, GPU and DSP operation blocks, the smartphones could exhibit new user experience and convenience, so as to strengthen the customized and differentiated competitive advantages of different mobile phone vendors.

Qualcomm says it will increase investment in AI field, mainly focusing on improving the performances of CPU, GPU and DSP to better support AI.

Previously, Qualcomm released the Snapdragon 845 processor. Alex Katouzian, the senior vice president and general manager of mobile business in Qualcomm, said that Qualcomm doesn’t have its own neural network engine, but it could make kernel optimization in the general platforms. Qualcomm has started research on AI from Snapdragon 820, Snapdragon 845 is the third generation product in AI research and its AI computation efficiency is three times higher than the last generation.

According to Qualcomm, AI develops rapidly and it is not the right time to make hardware of AI. It is not difficult to build AI module into the chips, Qualcomm can do it before. The key is in software development and optimization of the programming module.

In June, the chairman of MediaTek Cai Mingjie said in an interview, all the electronic products will evolve from “could connect the Internet” to “become intelligent” in the future. "In the first half of 2018, MediaTek will launch two P series chips, which will be equipped with VPU to strengthen the applications in AI, facial recognition. photography, AR/VR and others, the 3D sensing function is also expected to be included to improve MediaTek’s market share in mobile phone chips."

The Chairman and CEO of Spreadtrum Li Liyou also disclosed that the company will release an AI processor in 2018, which is developed for smartphones. This chip will be made using TSMC 12nm process, an upgraded version of the existing 16nm process.

In the past, Intel has been known as the chip giant, with the advent of AI, Intel is cooperating with various industries and plays an important role in AI design, AI evolution, AI scale computing and AI applications.

In order to grasp the opportunity in AI, Intel has purchased Altera, Yogitech, Nervana, Movidius, Mobileye and other companies, acquiring FPGA and other technologies. In the hardware, Intel’s products cover from cloud intelligent processor in data centers to device intelligent processors such as FPGA and VPU; in the software, Intel could provide an AI software package of library, framework, platform and application.

Previously, reports said that Intel has developed a self-learning neuromorphic chip --- Loihi. This lab chip contains most of the advanced features of the current released chips, which is integrated with 128 cores + 3 low-power consumption x86 cores, it supports the learning rules of programing and scalable neural network, it also includes FPGA emulation based prototype algorithm verification. Loihi will be launched at the end of the year, but it is only a lab chip and will not be sold in the market. At the same time, Intel announced in October that it will jointly make AI chips with Facebook.

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