Qualcomm Smartbooks More Like Smartphones: CEO

Last Updated Jul 29, 2009 10:08 AM EDT

Qualcomm has identified at least one significant difference between its proposed smartbook and the netbooks offered or announced by the likes of HP, Acer, Gateway and others. Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs told Kara Swisher during the Fortune Brainstorm conference that the company's smartbooks will resemble smartphones more than PCs, especially in that "they will be on the network at all times."

Think of the implications of that: not having to wait ages for the device to come to life and the operating system to find a wireless network. They will be more like a BlackBerry, iPhone or any other smartphone using push email technology. Jacobs also said that the device will have a much more powerful battery than smartphones and will have enough storage capacity to allow customers to cache content on their devices. "It's a smartphone on steroids," he told Swisher.

He also said the smartbook will use "a lot less power" than netbooks. Jacobs noted that customers could get the top ten YouTube videos streamed to their device while it's ostensibly off, but he could just as easily said they could get flash sales reports or other business application data in a similar fashion. "It will be downloading your data all the time, synchronizing your social network status," said Jacobs.

This isn't just a sideline for Qualcomm; it's future is in the balance because fourth-generation wireless standards like WiMAX and LTE are essentially the last stop of the gravy train represented by royalties its earned by licensing its CDMA technology.

Rather than simply trying to push a new chip, its taking advantage of what Jacobs noted was an important confluence of events â€"- lightweight devices, faster networks, and cloud computing â€"- to introduce a powerful product for which it owns a key technology. Being always on and running on very low power are very attractive characteristics â€" which they would have to be to compete with the likes of Apple, Research in Motion and Nokia (especially in Europe and Asia).

Jacobs didn't say this in the interview, but Qualcomm will probably run the device on its Snapdragon chip, a powerful processor that doesn't consume a lot of battery life that has already been tabbed by Toshiba for a new smartphone and Taiwan's Wistron for a netbook.

Qualcomm has also joined the app store gold rush with Plaza Retail, which is supposed to be a one-stop shop for customers of any mobile device, but many of those apps could be more suited to a smartphone than a smartbook, something Jacobs may have been alluding to when he confessed that a lack of third-party apps could represent a challenge to the company's long-term success. But if the device is powered by Snapdragon, it will also be able to feature "augmented reality" apps. Jacobs told the Korea Times that
the combination of storage in the network and the capabilities of the phone, brought to me in a new way that I can see it, will have the virtual world actually merge with the real world through the screen. This could be a very exciting possibility and we are working on it.
If that's the case, Qualcomm won't have any shortage of developers for its new smartbook. On the other hand, it will be going up against some of the savviest device marketers in the world. Nokia is pairing up Intel to hawk a lightweight Internet-driven device with an operating system for the occasion, while Apple can be expected to bring all of its marketing expertise to bear in support of its Tablet. Not by any means a walk in the park for any challenger.
  • 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.