Qualcomm looks to smartphones to drive growth
This success can be attributed to the smartphone’s capability to combine graphics and computing in a small portable form factor. However, to achieve this, smartphones rely on highly integrated processors, such as Qualcomm’s SnapDragon SoC to efficiently combine a multitude of technology components, including CPU, GPU, LAN, WAN, DSP, GPS, connectivity, software, power management, RF, and multimedia. The Snapdragon MSM8x60 family of mobile processors for multitasking tablets and smartphones, offers two asynchronous processor cores; an integrated Adreno 220 GPU with twice the processing power of its predecessor; and support for up to a 16 megapixel camera.
At a recent Qualcomm event, in Istanbul, Dr Paul Jacobs, Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm remarked that mobile can change the world and cited some examples such as healthcare, citizen news reporting, education, and e-government. Emphasizing the importance of mobile today, Dr Paul Jacobs added that mobile is the largest technology sector, generating revenue of around 1.3 trillion USD, representing 2 percent of global GDP.
The smartphone revolution is in its infancy, and as handsets get cheaper, market penetration will increase. One goal, the industry is looking at is to produce an entry level smartphone for $100. Further trends include augmented reality, gaming, mobile healthcare, 3D mobile, and faster mobile processors, rising from dual-core 1.5 GHz today to quad-core, 2.5 GHz around 2014.
Mobile healthcare is potentially one of the biggest markets available to the smartphone platform. Not only can wireless healthcare improve communications between doctors and patients, but it can significantly reduce costs in healthcare systems, and can also provide a very cost-effective way of monitoring patients with specific ailments or the elderly, that once required specialist equipment — now all that is needed is a smartphone, sensors and an app. Examples include wireless glucose meters, blood pressure monitoring, wireless ECG, temperature measurements, and elder care systems.
To illustrate this idea, Qualcomm Incorporated, through its Wireless Reach™ initiative, and Life Care Networks, along with the Community Health Association of China, has recently launched the Wireless Heart Health project for the prevention and care of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) in underserved communities in China.
Using China Telecom’s 3G EV-DO wireless network, this project aims to explore a new health care solution to enhance the CVD diagnosis and prevention capabilities of community health clinics in China.
The 3G system includes smartphones with built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors; web-based, electronic medical record software; and 3G wireless workstations located within the clinics. Each workstation includes a computer terminal with Internet access, providing health care workers with instant access to electronic patient records, including ECG data. The project also includes training sessions for all participating community health center clinicians.
“3G wireless technologies offer new channels for improving access to health care, particularly within underserved communities,” said Shawn A. Covell, vice president for Qualcomm Government Affairs.
Smartphones have the potential to double up as handheld gaming platforms, especially as the industry brings 3D displays, gesture control and augmented reality to the market.
Earlier this year Qualcomm introduced the Snapdragon™ Game Pack, which is an optimization program initially featuring more than 100 mobile games that represent the first installment of a growing collection of the latest console-quality and casual games optimized and enhanced for Snapdragon-based mobile devices. This milestone conveys the depth of support and collaboration among Qualcomm and top gaming publishers and developers that are using the advanced graphics capability of the embedded Adreno™ GPUs in Snapdragon mobile processors to bring a better gaming experience to mobile users. Future phases of the Snapdragon Game Pack will be able to take full advantage of next-generation Snapdragon mobile processors that will feature quad-core Adreno GPUs and will be optimized for larger display devices, such as tablets. According to Qualcomm, more than 60 percent of smartphone users regularly play games on their mobile devices.
Augmented Reality (AR) is the concept of superimposing virtual content (such as graphics) on top of a view of the real world as seen through a camera. Typical applications range from gaming and interactive media/marketing to instructional how-to/aid. Juniper Research estimates that revenue from AR will rise from a negligible amount today to over 700 million USD by 2014.
To this end, Qualcomm offer an augmented reality (AR) platform for Android smartphones, via their online developer network. Developers can now build, market and commercially distribute applications based on the Qualcomm AR platform. The platform’s rich feature set enables developers to build high-performance, interactive 3D experiences on real world images, such as those used in print media (books, magazines, brochures, tickets, signs) and on product packaging.
The platform supports multiple development environments. The Qualcomm AR Android SDK supports native Android development with the Android tool chain, including the Android SDK and NDK. The Qualcomm AR Unity Extension supports rapid development with the Unity 3 game development tool. A web application is also included for creating and managing image resources that can be used with either development environment.
Performance is achieved through Qualcomm’s innovations in advanced computer vision algorithms and close integration of hardware and software. The effect of this performance is a higher fidelity user experience in which graphics content appears more real against the real world background.
AR offers a users a different way of visualizing the real world on the smartphone or tablet screen. Combined with gesture control, new and innovative interfaces for the relatively small screen of a smartphone will enable users to interact more intuitively with the device. For example, a shelf of DVDs, might be represented on a phone as a sliding view of box covers. The user would use a hand movement to scroll through the titles, or touch the screen to play the DVD. An historic building or site might be viewed first on the smartphone using gesture control — the user might rotate the building or site to see it from all angles, or go through a door or passage to see what is inside. In gaming, gesture control combined with AR promises new ways users can interact with the game interface.
To ensure a lead in gesture control, Qualcomm recently acquired certain assets from GestureTek, a developer of gesture recognition technology. GestureTek has more than 25 years of experience implementing gesture-based technologies in mobile devices, entertainment facilities, healthcare systems, retail locations, and public and private venues. The acquisition gives Qualcomm ownership of certain intellectual property assets related to gesture recognition, as well as key engineering resources. Gesture recognition technology will be integrated into Qualcomm’s current and next-generation Snapdragon™ processors, giving OEMs the capability to produce smartphones, tablets and home entertainment devices with user interfaces based on natural human gestures.