At the Snapdragon Summit in Hawaii in late October, Qualcomm unveiled a new way for phones, PCs, tablets, headphones and accessories to automatically connect, simulating Apple’s seamless interactivity outside 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 on 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, whether it works as Qualcomm hopes – remains to be seen.
But it shows the appeal of Apple’s signature interoperability between its first-party devices. From AirPods and Apple Watches instantly connecting to iPhones, to using iMessage across devices, to sharing files from iPhone to MacBook to Mac to iPad, the ease with which Apple’s devices work harmoniously together has kept many people from straying outside the company’s lineup. If that can be achieved with devices from other brands, Qualcomm could build a new era of personal devices.
“The goal for us is across-the-board interoperability to defragment across all of these different platforms, across manufacturers, across different operating systems,” said Kabir Kasargod, senior director of product management in charge of Seamless at Qualcomm.
On the Summit stage, Qualcomm kept the spotlight on PC and mobile chips with on-device AI, but nearly every presentation mentioned how Seamless could benefit it. The company set up a demonstration for attendees to try the product out, and after watching 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 down on a chair in front of an Honor phone set up to photograph me in various poses – as if I was getting my yearbook photo taken. After my photo shoot, I watched as an attendant on a laptop used a separate keyboard and mouse to drag photos from the phone to the laptop and begin working on them in photo editing software. Four devices, all linked through Seamless.
It was a promising start, and even though all the devices were running Snapdragon silicon, they don’t need Qualcomm’s chips to work with the system. They’ll just work a bit better if they do, as they’ll tap into the sensor-packed Sensing Hub included in Snapdragon chips to add richer experiences, like communicating even when devices are locked with their screens off or if they are asleep.
Not just linking devices, but sharing continuity
There’s more to the potential of Snapdragon Seamless than dragging and dropping files between devices. Another benefit to having multiple devices talk to each other is continuity. Imagine writing up a document or playing a game and having progress carry over to another device right next to you.
Of course, we already have continuity over the cloud with services like Google Drive and games with cloud-based save files, but Qualcomm imagines Seamless could do it quietly in the background between adjacent devices. As it works now, Seamless uses multiple connectivity layers – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ultrawideband and even cell signal – for devices to keep in contact with each other.
Seamless’ responsive and immediate link could let you remotely activate the camera on another device. Within Apple’s 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 photo shoot demo, the attendant clicked the shutter button on the Honor phone from a nearby laptop.
Another Seamless demo at the Summit showed how the tech enables earbuds to automatically transition audio depending on which device you’re using, much like how Apple shifts AirPods pairing between iPads, iPhone 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 is driving where the user’s attention is, and by extension, the earbuds are following.”
Qualcomm isn’t the only one attempting to imitate Apple’s ecosystem interoperability. Google announced at CES 2022 its aims to make Android play better with other devices running its Wear OS software, Chrome OS computer software, Windows and Matter smart home devices. Intel also unveiled its Unison software in September 2022 to send messages and get notifications 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 uploaded via Windows or Android apps, while more involved interactions require installing the Seamless software library at the operating system layer.
Device makers will need to make choices about implementing Snapdragon Seamless, like deciding what information is shared from one gadget to another. Some info is automatically discoverable by other devices when looking to make those connective digital handshakes, but anything private will need encryption or authentication to access.
A device’s hardware – specifically, its connectivity options – limits what it’ll be able to do with the protocol. If manufacturers want their devices to use Seamless to unlock car doors, the device will need ultrawideband functionality. For use cases that require more constant connections without draining the battery, devices need Bluetooth low energy.
There’s a lot of 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 could use Seamless to share info about how good the connectivity is where they’re located.
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“Maybe here [where I’m standing] I don’t sense [signal] congestion off my earbuds and my laptop on the other side of the room is saying hey, there’s a lot of congestion over here,” Bekis said, so maybe the earbuds would prioritize stronger connectivity if the user walked 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 possibilities with extended reality. Yet 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 working out. Each device would communicate via Seamless and stream your data-rich workout to the trainer in real time.
Another example came during a technical deep-dive with a new scenario of a person playing a game on their phone while wearing an XR headset. As both devices communicated, the headset brought up a topographical map of the phone game showing location and enemy info – all happening automatically without the player selecting anything.
Yes, there is an AI tie-in
Most of Snapdragon Summit’s announcements around artificial intelligence were focused on integrating generative AI on the hardware level. The Snapdragon X Elite for PC laptops and Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for phones both have on-device generative AI. 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 several devices, according to Kedar Kondap, senior vice president and general manager of compute and gaming at Qualcomm. The sooner that on-device AI proliferates across phones, PC or anywhere else, the more use cases grow.
“The more pervasive [Seamless] becomes, the better it is across the board to be able to use AI and seamlessly leverage the NPU and AI engine capabilities across multiple devices,” said Kondap.
The long road of getting Seamless implemented
As Qualcomm pitched Snapdragon Seamless on stage, the appeal was obvious. The project aspirationally addresses a major issue of connectivity between Android and Windows devices that Apple has accomplished harmoniously in its own ecosystem, said Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
“People deserve a more coherent cross-device experience and Seamless is without a doubt the first step in making that possible,” Sag said. Yet the company has its work cut out for them: “Qualcomm has made some strides, but there’s still a long way to go and lots of OEMs who need convincing.”
Qualcomm isn’t ignorant of the effort needed to get manufacturers onboard. It’s easy for a company to focus its energy on its own products and a little harder to think about its devices as belonging to an ecosystem beyond brands.
“Looking at it from an end-user standpoint, if in a household you have different manufacturers’ devices, why not have them talking in a way that can ultimately create some new experiences?” Kasargod said. “Our goal is really to enable our partners so that all of them begin to, in a standardized way, unify their ecosystems.”
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