Qualcomm just took the wraps off a much-improved modem for 5G phones. But the timing of the modems' rollout could leave future Apple devices like the iPhone 14 on the outside looking in at Qualcomm's improved component.
Unveiled at the MWC 2022 in Barcelona this week, the Snapdragon X70 5G Modem-RF System is Qualcomm's latest modem-to-antenna offering aimed at high-end 5G phones. Like the Snapdragon X65 before it, the X70 should be able to deliver 5G speeds of up to 10 Gigabits (though no 5G network currently offers that kind of performance). But more important than the speed is a different addition to this modem.
Specifically, Qualcomm says the Snapdragon X70 will include a 5G AI processor, the first of its kind. That should allow the modem system to use artificial intelligence to optimize a phone's antenna and better manage 5G beams going to and from a 5G phone. Qualcomm figures that will be particularly useful for mmWave-based 5G networks in places like stadiums and arenas, though AI can also help manage sub-6GHz 5G signals as well.
All this should translate to faster speeds, lower latency and better performance. To that end, Qualcomm says the new modem will benefit from AI-based adaptive antenna tuning that can deliver up to a 30% improvement in context detection for higher average speeds and coverage.
It sounds terrific, but the timing of the modem's release could mean that the Snapdragon X70 never lands in one of Apple's iPhones. The Snapdragon X70 is coming out in the second half of this year, with Qualcomm expecting phones featuring the modem to be available by late 2022.
That leaves the iPhone 14 out of the loop. Apple's next flagship phone is expected to launch in September, but rumors suggest that device is likely to feature Qualcomm's X65 modem, currently used by Samsung's Galaxy S22 flagships. The X65 was first announced a year ago, but it didn't arrive soon enough to be used in the iPhone 13, which features Qualcomm's X60 modem.
Here's where things get interesting. Apple is widely expected to start designing its own modems for future iPhones, with most analysts expecting the switch to happen in 2023 with the release of the iPhone 15. By that time, many of the best Android phones are likely to include Qualcomm's X70 modem, potentially giving them an AI-powered edge over Apple's modem.
We've already seen how using a modem that isn't up to the latest standards can impact a flagship phone. Google's Pixel 6 uses a Samsung-made modem that's roughly the equivalent of an older Snapdragon X55 modem. Most Pixel 6 rivals use the more advanced X60. Not only is that modem slower, it also seems to impact battery life, at least in our Pixel 6 testing.
It's worth remembering that all of this modem talk is pretty far ahead in the future. The iPhone 14 coming this fall is likely to feature the same Qualcomm as its main smartphone rivals, and there's no telling how whatever modem Apple uses in 2023 will measure up to the X70. (For that matter, we won't really know how the X70 performs until it starts appearing in phones toward the end of this year.) But as Apple stakes out more of its own path on smartphone components, it's worth keeping an eye on how that could impact any iPhone vs. Android comparisons.