How Qualcomm Can Change The Smartphone Market

Last Updated Oct 26, 2009 4:53 PM EDT

Qualcomm could end up federating the currently fragmented open source mobile app space and giving Apple a real run for its money.

So far, developers have flocked to the iPhone because Apple makes it easy for them to present their apps to end users, and makes it easy for them to sell through an interface that's familiar to most users (iTunes). Given the fact that apps are the tail that wag the smartphone dog, the question can fairly be asked: does anyone stand a chance against this?

The 75,000-plus (at last count) apps available on Apple's iPhone app store seems like a big deal (Apple certainly markets it as such), and explains the iPhone's ascendancy in the smartphone market. But 75,000 is actually an achievable goal in the open source world that dominates mobile platforms.

In contrast to PCs, which are 99.999999% proprietary software (mostly Microsoft Windows and Apple), the mobile world is predominantly open source, largely thanks to Nokia's Symbian, the most popular smartphone operating system.

According to Juniper Research,

with over 60% of the smart-phone market now using an open-source OS, there has -- been a significant a shift in position from proprietary to open-source.
The problem remains, however, that handset manufacturers (i.e., Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Motorola) each have their own app stores, each with its own way of presenting and selling apps to end users. Not good for developers and not good for end users.

Om Malik notes that while Android, Google's open source mobile operating system, is taking off, "the problems Android faces are fragmentation of the user experience and the existence of multiple app stores."

Maybe that explains why Qualcomm, which has already announced an app store of its own, has created a new subsidiary dedicated to open source platforms.

The wholly owned subsidiary, called Qualcomm Innovation Center, currently consists of software engineers who work on hardware-optimizing, open-source mobile operating systems and applications, the company said.
If Plaza Retail, Qualcomm's mobile app store, can somehow federate the Web-based open source mobile app world, giving developers and end-users a single place to discover and pay for mobile apps, then the iPhone will be in for one heck of a battle in the long run. Because what iDoesn't, Droid does. In other words, all apps being equal, Apple will have to start competing on its own product features, and that will be a change.
  • Michael Hickins

    Michael Hickins has written about technology and business for BNET, InformationWeek, InternetNews.com, eWEEK -- where he was executive editor from 2007-2008 -- The Curator, Pseudo.com, Multex Investor, Reuters, and Conde Nast's WWD.com. Hickins is the author of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, a collection of short stories published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991. He also published Blomqvist, a picaresque novel set in 11th century Europe, in 2006. Hickins remains passionately interested in the intersections of business, technology, politics and culture, and endures a life-long obsession with baseball. He is married with two children and lives in Manhattan.