Most consumers could care less which processor is inside their phone, but to the early adopters it is often seen as the most important hardware specification of any upcoming device. And when we survey the first half of 2012, the two most compelling parts will be NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4. Both promise improved performance, faster graphics, and longer battery life, so nerds will be faced with tough choice when it comes time to buy their next gadget.

We originally expected Tegra 3 tablets in August and smartphones by Christmas, but that schedule kept sliding and we are still waiting for the first devices to go on sale. Earlier this year it didn’t look like Qualcomm would have an answer till Q3 2012, so it appeared that NVIDIA would have close to a full year supremacy with their next-generation mobile processor.

Zoom forward to today and that first-mover advantage is nearly gone. According to the latest tip we received, we might actually see Snapdragon S4-powered smartphones before we see Tegra 3 smartphones.

The Rumor

The ASUS Padfone, which has long been rumored as one of the first Tegra 3 smartphones, will actually be one of the first devices with Qualcomm’s new 28nm Snapdragon S4.

The Source

This tip came from an industry insider with direct knowledge of the product. They have provided accurate information in the past and I believe them to be trustworthy.

One Android Insider’s take on the rumor

I recently traveled to Qualcomm’s headquarters and received some hands-on time with their Snapdragon S4 mobile development platform. We were told that partners would launch their products in the first half of 2012, but even I was skeptical. Qualcomm had been boasting that their Snapdragon S4 sampled ahead of time, but the jump from 45nm to 28nm process technology was a very big one and I thought consumer devices would arrive at the end of any time frame we were given.

ASUS originally said they would ship the Padfone by Christmas, which is the same window that NVIDIA told us Tegra 3 smartphones would appear. Later we learned that the first Tegra 3 smartphones slipped to Q1 2012, so it was no surprise that the Padfone was also moved to a February launch.

To find out that the Padfone is actually going to be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 is a huge surprise. I don’t know if NVIDIA won the design and then lost it (similar to the Droid Bionic), but this is a bad sign about the possible timing of the first Tegra 3 phones.

If ASUS expects to launch the Padfone around February, then I’m sure we will see dozens of other Snapdragon S4 devices around that same time frame. That could mean that high-end Android devices at CES 2012 will be dominated by Qualcomm, where it was NVIDIA who outshined everyone at CES 2011 (with the Xoom, Atrix, Bionic, etc.).

The first 28nm Snapdragon S4 processor will only be dual-core, but Qualcomm expects their new Krait core to be faster and use less power than NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3. Every company always tells us that their technology and strategy is the best, so it’s going to be interesting to see which claims hold up and who comes out on top early next year.

NVIDIA should win the hearts and wallets of the mobile gamers with their Tegra 3 platform, but Qualcomm is going to rack up a ton of design wins with their fully integrated LTE multimode modem. If the Snapdragon S4 is ready to go and devices launch by February, then Qualcomm might just dominate the Android landscape in 2012.


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