The arrival later this year of Windows 8 for ARM changes the computing landscape. For the first time, companies that develop chips for smartphones and tablets can compete direct with Intel and AMD. One of those companies is Qualcomm, which is why I was interested to see what CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs would have to say at the company's CES keynote today.
Qualcomm is of course best known for phone chips. Jacobs said the company has shipped more than 7 billion chipsets making it the world's number one supplier of silicon for wireless. But Windows 8 on ARM is an opportunity to parlay its wireless expertise and push its Snapdragon chipset into laptops and other devices such as smart TVs.
"That is going to be a really exciting new opportunity for the [Snapdragon] S4 chip to flex its muscles," Jacobs said. "That is a game changer."
Jacobs gave what he said was the first public demonstration of a tablet with the Snapdragon S4 and Windows 8 running on AT&T's 4G LTE network. He showed how the tablet could smoothly handle Windows 8 features such as Metro-style apps, full-screen IE browsing and Charms. "All of things you'd expect. That's running on an ARM processor. And, by the way, no fan," Jacobs said.
There are 20 manufactures with more than 70 Snapdragon S4-based products in the pipeline, according to Qualcomm. But Jacobs did not provide details or say when the first Windows 8 tablets and laptops will be available.
Most of the keynote was not surprisingly focused on Qualcomm's technology for phones, in particular Android and Windows Phone smartphones.
Jacobs said Snapdragon now powers 300 devices with another 350 in the works. Many of these are Android smartphones and Jacobs talked about Qualcomm's work with Google starting with the release of the Nexus One almost exactly two years ago. Snapdragon is also in other Android devices too. This week Lenovo announced a smart TV with a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip and Android 4.0. Liu Jun, president of Lenovo's Mobile Internet and Digital Home Group, gave a demonstration of features such as voice-enabled search for video content and game play (using Gameloft's Asphalt driving game). "We are transferring Lenovo from a leading personal computing company to a leading digital home company," Liu said. Jacobs also mentioned Qualcomm's recently-announced GameCommand for the Android Market for managing games.
Qualcomm has been also playing a lead role in Windows Phone (every phone currently on the market uses Qualcomm silicon, he noted). Nokia is also using Qualcomm in its Lumia Windows Phone smartphones, which are just coming to the U.S. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop came onstage and talked about both the new models shipping in the U.S. over the next few months, including the Lumia 900, a 4G LTE phone for AT&T, and the company's efforts to build cheaper smartphones for developing countries.
The rest of the keynote focused on themes that Qualcomm often discusses such as the growth of mobile broadband in developing countries; its Mirasol display technology; augmented reality applications; and the potential of wireless technology to improve education and healthcare. Qualcomm announced that Hanvon will release a new e-reader, the C18 (5.7-inch touchscreen Mirasol display, 1GHz single-core Snapdragon processor and customized version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread) for schoolchildren in China in mid-February. Another Mirasol-based e-reader, the Kyobo eReader, shipped in South Korea last year.
Jacobs concluded his keynote noting that Qualcomm is now shipping one million chips each day giving it an opportunity to do some really big things.