Right now, I’m attempting to guide a butterfly onto a nectar-dipped stick. I sense that I might be disturbing the insects, but the monarch butterfly caretakers with us in a 10-foot screened-in box reassure me that it’s fine. So, I follow their guidance and softly nudge the feet of the closest butterfly, encouraging it to grip the stick.
As we each gradually work on capturing a butterfly, one of the butterfly experts politely asks our small group how our product launch is progressing. A moment of silence follows. None of us have the energy to clarify that it’s not our launch; we’re here to cover and analyze it. Instead of delving into this dull backstory, someone in our group thankfully speaks up, saying, “It’s going great.”
After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally managed to get one of the little butterflies to cling to the stick. I feel a rush of pride and turn to the rest of the group, exclaiming, “Look, I caught one!” Then, we all stand there awkwardly, wondering what happens next.
Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Summit follows an unusual pattern. Each year, the company invites numerous industry partners, analysts, and members of the press to Hawaii for its flagship chip announcement. It’s worth noting that industry partners, analysts, and press members are primarily accustomed to indoor settings and not tropical climates.
By the end of the second day, I had sweated through all the clothing I had packed and had to do laundry in my hotel room sink. On the bright side, my room’s patio is so warm that my clothes dry quickly in just a few hours. (By The Verge’s ethics policy, we do not accept paid trips. Except for a few prearranged group meals, Vox Media covered my travel, accommodations, meals, and other expenses.)
Our butterfly encounter is part of a series of demonstration stations showcasing the company’s latest technology. All the stations are located outdoors in the midday tropical sun, and when we reach the butterfly area, we appear rather unwell and sweaty. Qualcomm has thoughtfully integrated aspects of traditional Hawaiian culture into each station, along with its technology demonstrations. Some connections are loose; we explore the history of slack-key guitar while testing a new audio-switching technology.
From Butterfly Wishes to AI Demos: A Rollercoaster Experience
Some connections aren’t obvious, and after an hour in the session, I’m unsure about the relevance of monarch butterflies to the next generation of mobile computing, but I’m too overheated to be concerned. Eventually, our butterfly guides demonstrate how to gently hold a butterfly by pinching its closed wings between two fingers. We’re then told to select one from the enclosure and release them all at once while making a wish. My mind quickly considers several wishes, ranging from thoughts of peace and healing for the people of Maui, where we are visitors, to simply wanting to escape the sun as soon as possible.
After releasing the butterflies, we move to the tech demo station and witness one of the features I’ve eagerly anticipated: generative photo expansion. This feature is powered by the newly announced Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, Qualcomm’s latest mobile chipset. You can simply pinch and zoom out of an image, and within seconds, generative AI fills in the borders.
The concept is interesting, but the actual demo has its ups and downs. It handles some preloaded scenes effectively, but when challenged to fill in part of a picture of a face. It struggles. I observed similar results later on; at times, it’s incredibly impressive. But on one occasion, it adds a disembodied sexy leg to a landscape. Other demos at the summit also have a mix of impressive and not-quite-right outcomes. During a couple of onstage demonstrations of on-device text generation. Things go slightly awry: a request to plan a trip from San Diego to Seattle shifts mid-demo to a trip from Maui to Seattle. Which is impressive at first but then becomes problematic.
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