Qualcomm Steps into the Sun with Focus on Mobile OS Development

Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) Chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs kicked off the wireless technology giant’s annual conference for mobile software developers in San Diego yesterday with a message that was akin to declaring “Our time has come.”

Jacobs made this point by offering a few staggering factoids:

—Annual sales of smartphones now exceed PCs, and are on track to exceed 1 billion units by 2014.

—The global revenue generated from data usage on mobile devices now amounts to $320 billion a year—more than the revenue from music, Hollywood movies, ISPs, and cable TV combined.

—By 2016, mobile app downloads are projected to hit 66 billion. “We’re really just at the beginning,” Jacobs said. “The mobile phone has already become the center of our lives, and in the future it will have the ability to connect to everything around us, giving us a digital sixth sense.”

In other words, the market for mobile software already is enormous, and it’s only growing. “The ecosystem changes so rapidly that anyone who doesn’t keep up with this technology will quickly become irrelevant,” Jacobs said. Reading between the lines of that quote was another recurring theme of Jacobs’ keynote talk—the market for mobile apps is now all about cross-platform capabilities, and Qualcomm arguably has emerged as the key technology provider. The implication of all this, of course, is that Qualcomm, as the world’s largest provider of wireless semiconductors, is the technology workhorse that software developers would want to hitch their wagons to.

“For nearly three decades, we’ve made it our mission to really push the envelope in terms of what’s possible in mobile,” Jacobs said. “We’ve invested a lot of resources into R&D for innovation, and today our technology is in more smartphones than any other company. We have a lot of tools and resources, and we make it available to [you] developers.”

With the mobile computing revolution in full swing, Jacobs said Qualcomm is using its Snapdragon line of processors to advance the state of the art in connected TVs, machine-to-machine communications, wireless health, mobile gaming, and other mobile innovations.

At the center of this advance, said Jacobs and Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm Internet Services and a senior vice president of software strategy, are the Android and Windows Phone operating systems—along with Windows RT (Windows on ARM) and HTML5. “All Windows phones are based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon [processors],” Jacobs said, “and that’s something we’re proud of. With Snapdragon and Windows RT, you’re going to see a whole new Windows experience.”

Conspicuously missing from the spotlight at the third Uplinq conference is Brew (and its successor, Brew MP), the mobile platform that Qualcomm introduced more than a decade ago. Qualcomm made Brew MP a highlight at its inaugural Uplinq conference in 2010, but no more.

During an afternoon press conference, Jacobs said the company has made the decision to focus Brew software development on feature phones, to “provide capabilities to people who can’t afford smartphones.” Chandhok later told reporters that the shift at Uplinq—from being a Brew conference to a major operating systems conference—is one of the realities of the market that Qualcomm doesn’t control. “Our place in the ecosystem has changed too, and we now see ourselves as platform providers,” Chandhok added.

Qualcomm also used its annual developers’ conference to unleash a series of announcements, including:

—Qualcomm is now collaborating with Cambridge, MA-based Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM), to develop new protocol enhancements for mobile Web browsing that are intended to accelerate download times and promote greater bandwidth efficiency. More specifically, the collaboration is intended to optimize Akamai’s Aqua Mobile Accelerator performance on Snapdragon-based devices by the fourth quarter of 2012.

—In a separate collaboration with Microsoft, Qualcomm has been making Snapdragon-based test PCs for Windows RT available to select developers. The initiative is intended to allow developers to test their Metro style apps on a physical Windows RT device to ensure optimization. Qualcomm also said it will award a total of $200,000 in cash prizes for a Windows RT Metro Style App Developer Contest. The contest deadline is Oct. 1, and winners will be named in four categories: best gaming app, best productivity app, best peer-to-peer app using Qualcomm’s AllJoyn technology, and most-compelling connectivity use case. One of the four finalists also will receive a grand prize for best overall Windows RT app.

—Qualcomm said more than 1,000 mobile apps developed over the past year are using Vuforia, the company’s augmented reality technology. Jay Wright, who heads Vuforia business development for Qualcomm, demonstrated how augmented reality technology can be used by retailers to demonstrate how products in different styles and colors would look. Qualcomm’s Jacobs also made room in his keynote talk for a presentation by Ambarish Mitra, a co-founder and CEO of London-based blippar, which has developed a free augmented reality app for advertisers. In his demo, Mitra scanned a blippar code on a store display, which launched an augmented reality image of NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick. Mitra then snapped a photo of Qualcomm CEO Jacobs posing, with his arm around Harvick.

—Jacobs also stepped aside for a brief demonstration by Raj Talluri, vice president of product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT). Using a tablet computer with a four-core Snapdragon chipset, Talluri demonstrated a high-resolution image with shimmering water, shifting sands with drifting cirrus cloud shadows, “god rays,” and other graphics effects that he said are typically found in high-end quality gaming consoles. Jacobs said Qualcomm has shipped more mobile graphics processors in its multi-function Snapdragon processor than anyone else.

—Qualcomm said a preview software developers’ kit (SDK) for its Snapdragon platform on the Android operating system is now available. The full SDK will be available to device manufacturers and app developers in coming months. Qualcomm said its Snapdragon SDK for Android enables mobile developers to access next-generation technology and features of its Snapdragon processors via application programming interfaces (APIs) that would not otherwise be available. The SDK will initially support the Snapdragon S4 8960 processor, and is expected to eventually gradually support Snapdragon processors across multiple tiers.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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