At Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii in late October, Qualcomm unveiled a new way for phones, computers, tablets, headphones and accessories to automatically connect, simulating Apple’s seamless interactivity outside of its ecosystem. All device makers need to do is integrate Qualcomm’s system into all their products.
Making this dream a reality is as simple as integrating software protocols into devices, and thanks to minimal hardware requirements, it can be done on new and old products. Whether device makers follow through on integrating Snapdragon Seamless—and if they do, if it works as Qualcomm hopes—remains to be seen.
But it does show how attractive Apple’s signature compatibility is between its first-party devices. From AirPods and Apple Watches connects directly to iPhonesto use iMessage across devices, to share files from iPhone to MacBook to Mac to the iPad, the ease with which Apple’s devices work harmoniously together has kept many from falling outside the company’s range. If it can be achieved with devices from other brands, Qualcomm can build a new era of personal devices.
“The goal for us is interoperability across the board to defrag across all these different platforms, across manufacturers, across different operating systems,” said Kabir Kasargod, senior director of product management responsible for Seamless at Qualcomm.
On the Summit stage, Qualcomm kept the focus on PC and mobile chips with on-device AI, but nearly every presentation mentioned how Seamless could benefit it. The company arranged a demonstration for attendees to try the product, and after seeing the pitch, I had to look for myself.
In a demo room full of Snapdragon-powered devices, Qualcomm set up a photo booth in the corner to showcase the Seamless workflow. I sat on a chair in front of an Honor phone that was set up to take pictures of me in various poses – as if I was going to take my yearbook photo. After my shoot, I watched an attendant on a laptop use a separate keyboard and mouse to drag images from the phone to the laptop and start working on them in photo editing software. Four devices, all linked via Seamless.
It was a promising start, and while all the devices ran Snapdragon silicon, they didn’t need Qualcomm’s chips to work with the system. They’ll just work a little better if they do, because they’ll take advantage of the sensor-filled Sensing Hub included in Snapdragon chips to add richer experiences, like communicating even when devices are locked with screens off or asleep.
Not just linking devices, but sharing continuity
There’s more potential with Snapdragon Seamless than dragging and dropping files between devices. Another benefit of having multiple devices talking to each other is continuity. Imagine writing a document or playing a game and having progress transferred to another device next to you.
Of course, we already have continuity across the cloud with services like Google Drive and games with cloud-based save files, but Qualcomm imagines that Seamless could do that quietly in the background between adjacent devices. As it works now, Seamless uses multiple layers of connectivity — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ultra-broadband and even cellular — to keep devices connected.
Seamlessly responsive and instant link can let you remotely activate the camera on another device. Within the Apple ecosystem, you can do this by using your Apple Watch to remotely trigger the shutter on a paired iPhone; imagine the appeal of doing the same with Android and Windows devices. In my shooting demo, the attendant clicked the shutter button on the Honor phone from a nearby laptop.
Another seamless demo at the summit showed how the technology allows the earbuds to automatically transfer audio depending on which device you’re using, much like how Apple toggles AirPods pairing between iPads, iPhones and Macs. And if a call comes in, the audio will intuitively switch to it in what Kasargod calls “an intelligent handshake where the contextual information drives the user’s attention and, by extension, the earbuds follow.”
Qualcomm isn’t the only one trying to imitate Apple’s ecosystem compatibility. Google announced at CES 2022 its goals to make Android play better with other devices running its Wear OS software, Chrome OS desktop software, Windows and Matter smart home devices. Intel also unveiled its Unison software in September 2022 for sending and receiving messages from Android and iOS phones.
Snapdragon Seamless has interoperability between Windows and Android devices through a software library, and Qualcomm is working on one for Linux. For light interactions, Seamless can be loaded via Windows or Android apps, while more involved interactions require installing the Seamless application library into the operating system layer.
Device makers will have to make choices about implementing Snapdragon Seamless, such as deciding what information is shared from one gadget to another. Some information can be automatically discovered by other devices when they want to do these interconnected digital handshakes, but anything private will need encryption or authentication to access.
A device’s hardware—specifically, its connectivity—limits what it can do with the protocol. If manufacturers want their devices to use Seamless to unlock car doors, the device will need ultra-broadband functionality. For use cases that require more constant connections without draining the battery, devices need Bluetooth low energy.
There is great potential for how devices talk to each other. During a Q&A session at the Snapdragon Summit, Dino Bekis, vice president and general manager of wearables and mixed signal solutions at Qualcomm, gave an example of how devices can use Seamless to share information about how well the connection is where they are.
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“Maybe here (where I’m standing) I don’t feel (signaling) congestion from my earbuds and my laptop across the room says hey, there’s a lot of congestion over here,” Bekis said, so maybe the earbuds would prioritize stronger connections if the user went into a more congested area. The real question for manufacturers, Bekis said, is “now that I have all this extra information, how do I want to use it to deliver a better end-user experience?”
There are even augmented reality capabilities. Another demo at the summit focused on another potential scenario for Seamless: wearing a smartwatch and XR headset and doing exercises while a phone records video of them exercising. Each device would communicate via Seamless and stream your data-rich workout to the trainer in real time.
Another example came during a tech dive with a new scenario where a person plays a game on their phone while wearing an XR headset. When both devices communicated, the headset picked up a topographical map of the phone game showing location and enemy information – all done automatically without the player making any selections.
Yes, there is an AI connection
Most of Snapdragon Summit’s artificial intelligence announcements were focused on integrating generative AI at the hardware level. Snapdragon X Elite for laptops and Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for phones both have generative AI on the device. Alone, they can run queries and use AI tricks to expand photos beyond their original boundaries without ever using the cloud.
Seamless is an opportunity to combine AI capabilities from multiple devices, according to Kedar Kondap, senior vice president and general manager of computing and gaming at Qualcomm. The sooner on-device AI spreads across phones, PCs or elsewhere, the more use cases grow.
“The more pervasive (Seamless) becomes, the better across the board it is to be able to use AI and seamlessly leverage the NPU and AI engine capabilities across multiple devices,” Kondap said.
The long road to get Seamless implemented
When Qualcomm put Snapdragon Seamless on stage, the appeal was obvious. The project addresses a major issue of connectivity between Android and Windows devices that Apple has achieved harmoniously in its own ecosystem, said Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
“People deserve a more cohesive experience across multiple devices and Seamless is undoubtedly the first step in making that possible,” Sag said. Still, the company has its work cut out for them: “Qualcomm has made some progress, but there is still a long way to go and many OEMs that need to be convinced.”
Qualcomm is not ignorant of the effort required to get manufacturers on board. It’s easy for a company to focus its energy on its own products and a little harder to think of its devices as belonging to an ecosystem beyond brands.
“If you look at it from an end-user point of view, if you have devices from different manufacturers in a household, why not let them talk in a way that can ultimately create some new experiences?” said Kasargod. “Our goal is really to enable our partners so that everyone starts, in a standardized way, to unify their ecosystems.”
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