Qualcomm. It’s one of those words that makes it into around half the articles, features and reviews we write, ubiquitous in the world of mobile.
But unless you’re a tech-head, you might not know who Qualcomm is, what Qualcomm does or why Qualcomm is so important.
Even if you are into phones and you do know exactly what a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, 600 and 800 are, we’re going to hazard a guess, you don’t know the half of what Qualcomm actually does.
What are we talking about? We’re talking about augmented reality, coffee machines you can control with your smartphone, mobile chipsets capable of playing back 4K video content and network technology that can double the speed of LTE.
Appetites whet? We thought they would be.
Let’s start with chips
We’re getting ahead of ourselves jumping straight into the cool stuff you don’t know about – lets start off by talking about the cool stuff that you probably do know about.
We’re obviously talking chipsets. The Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 has been inside more handsets than we can free-recall right now. In its dual-core variant, you can find it in the HTC One S, the Sony Xperia T and the Nokia Lumia 920. In its quad-core variant, the S4 Pro, it’s inside the Google Nexus 4, LG Optimus G and the Sony Xperia Z.
The latest generation of Qualcomm’s chipset, the Snapdragon 600 is loaded on board the stunning HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, with the upcoming Qualcomm 800 expected to land in this summer’s flagships, having already been confirmed for the ZTE Grand Memo and rumoured in the Sony Honami.
If you’re an iPhone user, don’t think Qualcomm doesn’t have anything to do with your mobile. Yes, Apple makes its own chips, but it does so with plenty of support from the big Q.
And all because Qualcomm is the current leader of wireless chipsets.
What makes Qualcomm chips so special?
Qualcomm is special because it’s ahead of the game. GSM, HSPA, DC-HSPA and LTE radios have been hard-wired into Snapdragon processors for generations. Why’s this impressive? Because, everyone else is still playing catch up.
Nvidia, for example is about to unleash its Tegra 4 processor, which will undoubtedly impress in terms of power, but won’t have an integrated LTE modem. That’s coming on the Nvidia Tegra 4i, which hasn’t had a confirmed release as of yet. Samsung is unable to produce enough LTE laden Exynos 5 Octas to meet global demand, leaving Qualcomm 600 in all but the Korean models.
This should shed light on exactly why Qualcomm’s Q2 revenue hit a staggering $6.12 billion, with over $2 billion in profit.
We mentioned Qualcomm isn’t just chipsets.
Its VuForia augmented reality platform for example is already being used in apps across iOS and Android, with brands like American Apparel, Audi and Sesame Street on board.
It’s also part of the sales experience for print catalogues in the US such as Ballard. Open up the catalogue, point your tablet or phone at a page and just tap an object to buy it. We didn’t think it would be that easy, but then we saw it in action.
Top Gear’s James May has even featured in the wonderful world of VuForia, surely that attests to its ubiquity?
But it isn’t just AR Qualcomm dabbles in.
It showcased a range of technologies at MWC 2013 stretching across the connected home. The most obviously jaw-dropping was the Snapdragon 800 theatre.
This media theatre was powered by a mobile chip, the Snapdragon 800, playing back 4K content. What does this mean? It means that a chipset expected to be in phones by summer is capable of playing back video four times higher resolution as Full HD.
A 4K film is about 150GB. A 150GB movie, being processed, on a phone processor. Madness.
With Full HD mobile screens only just having arrived on phones, it might seem like there’s no point to 4K capable chipsets, but that’s probably what people were thinking about LTE all those years ago.
If nothing else, Qualcomm has given us a peek into the future, a future in which you could realistically be able to push a 4K movie to your TV from your phone, or smart watch wirelessly.
And unsurprisingly, it goes beyond high octane processing goodness. Qualcomm has also developed a wireless tech to connect a home; it’s called AllJoyn and boy is it versatile.
Ever wanted a smart coffee machine for example? Qualcomm has one it modded itself, harnessing AllJoyn.
MWC saw the semiconductor company initiating piping hot brews from a smartphone. By affixing a wireless receiver to a run of the mill coffee machine and creating an accompanying app, it developed the smarts to power it all.
How far can Qualcomm take this? Its chips are inside PCs, smartphones, tablets and TVs. They could potentially power anything and everything from car head-units through to washing machines and microwaves.
With that in mind and the smart device at the heart of it all, AllJoyn’s possibilities are endless.
We mentioned car head-units, and while not necessarily part of the connected home, MWC saw Qualcomm showcase a concept head-unit for a car.
The camera above the steering wheel could figure out who was sitting down for example, adjusting the seat for the driver. It could also detect if the driver was nodding off, in turn sounding an alarm to alert them.
The tablet head-unit showcased at MWC also outputted Google Navigation as well as displayed all the car’s gauges, not to mention supported Full HD video and control of the seat back monitors.
Bringing it back to the present
With all that future gazing therefore, it’s little wonder that Qualcomm has managed to nail the present so convincingly.
It has chipsets in every major non-Apple flagship on the market, rumoured chipsets in the next generation of flagships and plenty of concept tech to keep us interested in its R&D.
So it looks like Qualcomm is racing ahead, waiting for battery, screen and ultimately, consumer tech to catch up. Until it does, we’ll enjoy the present; knowing exactly what’s on the inside of the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z, and eagerly awaiting what’s on the horizon.