Three quarters of smartphones will have AI chip by 2022

(Image Credit; Apple)

The number of smartphones equipped with dedicated AI processors will jump from 190 million to 1.25 billion in 2022 – meaning three quarters of all devices shipped that year will likely have on-board intelligence.

Most smartphones currently sold have at least one AI-enabled feature, such as intelligent imaging, facial recognition or a voice-activated personal assistant.

However, the majority of these functions are powered by the cloud or through processing distributed across various chips such as the CPU and GPU.

AI smartphones

As AI becomes increasingly integral to consumer technologies, manufacturers and developers believe on-board capabilities will enable a new breed of applications and reduce power consumption.

With the arrival of 5G networks and a desire for reduced latency, mobile phones will increasingly provide edge computing functions too.

“We see voice assistants as one of the first applications to benefit from device-based processing,” said Gareth Owen, Associate Research Director at Counterpoint Research. “Today, most voice processing in smartphones is cloud-based. However, voice assistants will be able to process commands quicker and respond faster with on-device processing. It also resolves privacy concerns.”

Apple and Huawei are among the first to include dedicated AI processors in their System-on-a-Chip (SoC) platforms in 2017, but all vendors are following their lead. The inclusion of AI capabilities in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon range will foster growth in the high-end segment, while MediaTek’s efforts will see AI become a fixture at lower price points.

“With Qualcomm joining the fray and incorporating hardware-based AI acceleration in its latest Snapdragon SoC for the first time, industry-wide adoption of AI silicon in smartphones is inevitable,” added Peter Richardson, Research Director at Counterpoint Research.

“And with Qualcomm keen to extend machine learning capabilities into its lower cost chips, plus the availability of AI SoCs for mid-range phones from other vendors, this trend will quickly extend to mid-range and even low-range smartphones.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.