Qualcomm Turns a Netbook Into a Smartbook

qcom2Qualcomm isn’t going to cede the mobile computing market to Intel and its success with netbooks, the CDMA powerhouse made clear today while laying out its vision of mobile computing. The vision consists of what Qualcomm is calling a smartbook. But combining the words smartphone and netbook together may be the only new thing Qualcomm is pushing here — basically it’s launching an ARM-based netbook.

The smartbook is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip, which is a beefed-up cell phone processor that runs at 1GHz and includes a variety of radio connectivity such as cellular and Wi-Fi. This highly integrated chip can result in a device with a very small form factor, according to Luis Pineda, SVP of marketing and product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies. However, Qualcomm has chosen to pop this processor into a device with a screen measuring some 10-12 inches. With a full keyboard. Available either at retail or through a cell phone carrier. You know, kind of like a netbook. The pricing will be comparable to a netbook, too, according to Pineda, who noted that smartbooks will be complimentary to a notebook but will “cannibalize the netbook market.”

Well, at least Qualcomm is being up-front with its goals. The device will run Linux as the operating system, but Pineda says that the OS isn’t as important for the user interface as having a well-designed home screen and a touchscreen. The smartbooks will also have a battery life of 8 to 10 hours, instant-on capability, and may include voice. Basically, Qualcomm is taking a smartphone and making it bigger, as opposed to Intel’s netbook strategy of taking a PC and making it smaller. So far, smaller PCs have worked out for Intel, but it’s well aware that devices, like those proposed by Qualcomm, have features that will likely appeal to more users. That’s why Intel is pushing its Moblin OS, which steals some UI features from cell phones, and is working on its own integrated chips. However, when it comes to smartbooks, Qualcomm will have to deal with possible demand for software designed for x86 chips and convincing folks to shell out more money for a data plan on the device.

Qualcomm says 15 device manufacturers are using the Snapdragon chip in over 30 devices, including smartbooks. Cell phone companies such as LG and HTC are building the devices, as are computing companies such as Asus, Acer and Toshiba. Qualcomm expects the first smartbooks out by the end of the year.

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