The world’s largest phone maker, Nokia, plans to invade the U.S. market with a batch of new high-end and low-end phones. Part of its strategy apparently includes an about-face in its relationship with Qualcomm, the mobile phone chip-maker.
We talked with Rob Chandhok, senior vice president of Qualcomm responsible for software strategy. He’s also president of the new Qualcomm Innovation Center Inc, called QuIC, and effort by Qualcomm to support all phones on all platforms, mainly by embracing open source software. As such, it hopes to compete more effectively against competitors such as Texas Instruments, and of course the iPhone, which customizes chips supplied by other vendors. QuIC will work with developers, giving them tools to support Linux and Webkit and open source operating systems such as Symbian, Android and Chrome.
VB: So why are you setting up QuIC ?
RC: Well, we’ve always been there in the mobile space, offering systems solutions to the marketplace. We support Brew, we aim to support all platform systems, really, So now we want to optimize open source software with Qualcomm technology.
VB: So the big news seems to be that Qualcomm has become “open” now, too. There’s a lot of open in our industry. Android is “open”, Symbian is “open” – what does open mean to Qualcomm ?
RC: A lot of the “open” has to do with what Geoffrey Moore has described as “context”. You’ve got the core, which you want to decide yourself on, but you’ve also got the “context” which you want others to decide on. We want to offer something to all the best platforms, we want to collaborate with developers on offers how to do platforms better. And there’s a lot of on the context part which they should
have a say on. There’s a lot of sense to offer some of the things as a commodity. We don’t need to differentiate around context.
VB: So where do you stand out in terms of technology, for example? Where’s your “core”?
RC: We’ve got HSPA+, we’ve got LTE for example. We want to build a lot of these chips. We also want to be known what we do the best and fastest chips around that. We’ve recently heavily invested in multimedia graphics engines, so we want to lead there, just to name some examples.
VB: And why is “open” so important for mobile in particular?
RC: There are a lot of physical limitations which come with the mobile web. Take for example mobile browser technology. You just can not assume a working wide area network connection. You never can assume 100% connectivity. You may get into a tunnel with your phone, for example. So you have to take this variable into account. How does this affect voice, how does this affect data ? What do data apps need to do in order to deal with that? There are many of such issues connected to mobile. And we at Qualcomm have really good know-how in dealing with them. So part of this “open” is Qualcomm giving tools back to the developers.
VB: How many resources have you put into this?
RC: We want to give considerable chunks of our know-how back to the community. And with the QuiC we intend to be more visible doing that. We don’t give out numbers, but we are putting a siginificant amount of engineers on that.
VB: So you say “open”, I get that. But which of the “open” initiatives do you intend to support most?
RC: We really aim to support all the platforms. Some 25 of the 30 Windows Mobile 6.5 phones which recently launched have our technology in them. We have done a lot of work on the first Android phones, some of that which was made public, some of that which wasn’t.
VB: Sure, but you will indicate certain preferences by what you spend time on….
RC: There are different demands from our customers, depending on their geography. Yet, we are not picking a winner. That’s not our role .”Open” is for us at Qualcomm a lot about contributing ideas there on standards. We established QuiC to have a more influential voice in the open source sommunity. We want relationships with all platform players. We want an influence on Android, Windows, Symbian phones. We need to participate in all these communities. But as you know we aren’t part of Symbian.
VB: But you just were speaking here at a Symbian conference. There’s a lof of kiss and make-up going on.
RC: (laughs) Matt already asked me that. As I said, there are different demands from our customers, depending on their geography.
VB: That does not sound specific, does it. So what in particular do you want to embrace with being “open”?
RC: Well, for example the really open portal is the internet. On the internet, you’re not encouraged to download particular apps. On mobile phones, though, the app which everybody seems to use in the moment is Facebook Mobile. Is that really open? No, the tools for all the platform aren’t owned by any one player, not by iPhone, Android, Symbian or Windows Mobile. The most promising platform, probably, is the web. So we want to offer a lot of web browsing support going forward.
VB: What would be a good example of such a tool ?
For example, let’s say we develop a really cool graphics accelerator. What we optimally would like to do is to offer it across all platforms
and map it into each of the communities.
VB: What’s the most important technologies ahead for you?
RC: I may sound cliche, but I think HTML5 is pretty important. HTML5 could enable the cross-platform delivery of services we speculate about. The question here is, for example, that will be driving the user experience going forward, Java or the web. We still don’t really know what this mysterious Chrome things is, do we. Multi-core processors are another one. I also think that someone has yet to write a really good application framework.