Qualcomm bets on Windows RT tablets and hybrids

At Qualcomm's developer conference, CEO Paul Jacobs said tablets with its Snapdragon processor will be available when Windows RT launches.But will many hardware makers rush to challenge low-priced Android tablets, Apple's iPad and Microsoft's own Surface?
Written by John Morris, Contributor

Though it got overshadowed by Google I/O last week, Qualcomm held its own developer conference, known as Uplinq. No one was jumping out of airships, but the company, which already dominates the mobile phone business, made the case for how it will extend its Snapdragon platform to tablets, laptops and other devices.

At the event, CEO Paul Jacobs confirmed that Windows RT devices running its Snapdragon processor will be available when Windows 8 launches this fall (Uplinq videos are here). That's significant because until recently it seemed like many Windows RT devices were running behind.

Earlier this month at Computex Nvidia and Asus previewed the Tablet 600 and Microsoft's Surface Windows RT tablet will also use Nvidia's Tegra 3 quad-core processor. But so far Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have been showing Windows RT prototypes only.

The first Qualcomm-based Windows RT devices will use the dual-core MSM8960T, though later devices will offer the APQ8064, which has twice the cores but lacks the integrated 3G and 4G LTE modem. Both are part of the Snapdragon S4 Pro family and include Qualcomm's own Adreno 320 graphics.

Jacobs said Snapdragon-based Windows RT devices will be thinner and lighter than the competition, and will deliver good performance and "extended battery life." He added that Snapdragon-based designs will not require fans but will still "keep things cool." Lately Qualcomm has been showing a butter-melting video to illustrate how its chips stay cooler than the competition under certain workloads.

Much of the developer activity has gravitated to iOS and Android, but Jacobs said Windows RT will "refocus the attention on Windows." Raj Talluri, a senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm, gave a demonstration of what he called console-quality gaming on a reference tablet running a quad-core Snapdragon Pro processor. And Tony Garcia, Executive Vice President of Business Development at Unity, which makes a popular game development platform for iOS and Android, said his company has provided developers with the tools to deliver good games.

Noting that all Windows Phone smartphones to date use Qualcomm chips, Jacobs said the "common core" in Windows 8/Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 will make it much easier for developers to build apps and games for both environments. Qualcomm also announced a developer contest for the best Windows RT apps.

Windows RT gives mobile chipmakers such as Qualcomm and TI an opportunity to expand into the PC world and directly challenge Intel and AMD. But it's still not clear where exactly Windows RT devices will fit in. Android has a big lead at the low end. Google just announced the $199 Nexus 7, Amazon is readying a new Kindle Fire, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet continues to sell well. At the high end, the iPad has so far been unassailable.

Plus hardware companies will now have to compete with Microsoft's own Surface tablet. HP just confirmed that it will not offer a Windows RT device at launch; instead it will focus on business tablets with Intel's Ivy Bridge processors and Windows 8. For these reasons we may only see a handful of Windows RT tablets and convertibles this year.

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