Jon Rubinstein joins Qualcomm: 5 things he brings to the table

After a period of relative obscurity, the erstwhile HP, Palm and Apple executive joins the board of directors at the semiconductor company.

Photo: James Martin/CBS Interactive

U.S. semiconductor company Qualcomm announced yesterday that it elected former Palm chief executive Jonathan Rubinstein to its board of directors.

Rubinstein had been laying low after his departure from Hewlett-Packard in January 2012; there, he led product innovation for the company's Personal Systems group and presided over the launch of the HP's Touchpad tablet, pictured above. 

Before that, he was chairman and CEO of Palm, and led that company's brief surge in 2008 and 2009 before it was acquired by HP in 2010. He also played a major role in the introduction of Apple's iPod.

Qualcomm has been expectedly bullish on the wireless market; here are five ways Rubinstein can help.

1.) Contacts. This one's a no-brainer: as a Silicon Valley-based veteran of the mobile space, Rubinstein is just a phone call away from many important people in the region. That's key for a company that's headquartered 500 miles away from the area where two of the most popular mobile operating systems are under development.

2.) Understanding Qualcomm and its customers. This isn't Rubinstein's first time at the Qualcomm rodeo; he has been incorporating the company's processors into devices (Pre 3, TouchPad, Veer) since he joined HP. He's familiar with the company, its products, its assets and shortcomings from a customer standpoint; that's valuable in the boardroom. And he understands how to operate in a world that's largely controlled by wireless carriers.

3.) Technical know-how. One of Rubinstein's lesser-known previous roles? Senior vice president of Hardware Engineering at Apple, where he overhauled that company's engineering teams, product roadmaps and manufacturing processes. He's also been to hell and back with the development of the Enyo HTML5-based application framework. If there's anyone who can understand the challenges of the mobile market through the lens of hardware, it's Rubinstein.

4.) He understands the cloud's potential. Like other mobile leaders, Rubinstein saw the coming shift to cloud-based personal computing way back in 2007, and built Palm's devices accordingly. As the space developed, he emphasized the consistency of experience across devices. And he's keenly aware of the movement in the home automation space. "The future is web-based apps," he has said. All of that plays into Qualcomm's LTE-colored vision for the future.

5.) Marketing. Qualcomm may sell to other businesses, but it has taken several steps recently to boost awareness among the general population: aside from its ownership of naming rights on the stadium where the San Diego Chargers football team plays, it has earmarked some money for marketing, namely around the company's namesake brand and its Snapdragon family of mobile processors. (We're still a far from "Intel Inside," but you get the point.) Rubinstein has an extensive history here: he's experienced what definitively works (Apple); what might have worked, had it been sustainable (Palm); and what really didn't work at all (HP). If Qualcomm seeks momentum and mindshare, Rubinstein has a few war stories to share.


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