Qualcomm on Smartbooks: Smartphone Experience in a Larger Form Factor

qualcomm-smartbookMore insights on Qualcomm’s smartbook products arrive today, courtesy of a DigiTimes interview. Earlier today, they spoke with Luis Pineda, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT). Here are some interview quotes that jumped out at me, along with my own thoughts:

“[W]hen Qualcomm looked at the netbook platform, our attitude was that these devices needed to gain more in connectivity.” – This is where Qualcomm can offer a competitive advantage; their newest Snapdragon product handles the processing, video and wireless connectivity with a single chip. Connectivity support includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G technologies. Fewer components are needed to offer a full computing experience while at the same time reducing space, heat and costs to build.

“[T]he starting point for smartbooks is a device that has all the features of smartphones that consumers love best, such as instant-on and 3G wireless support for connectivity everywhere. We also envision a device that is highly portable and provides all day battery usage.” – Instant-on in this case is really a device that’s always on but in a very low power state. Most smartphones of today employ this technique and it’s something I’d love to see in a small, notebook-like device. Qualcomm can offer the all-day battery usage claim because the CPU can run at 1 GHz using 500 mW of power. By way of comparison: An Intel Atom can run at a faster 1.66 GHz clock speed, but will use between 2 and 2.5 Watts to do so.

Smartbooks will combine the best features of the smartphone and netbook platform.” – I know I’m ready for just such a device, but I think it’s going to be a hard sell for mainstream consumers. Netbooks have evolved into small, cheap notebooks for most folks, while smartphones continue to mature as capable devices in their own right. Is there a market for another, “in between” device?

Smartbooks will be based on Linux.” – That’s pretty much a given, since these devices are based on the ARM architecture. The only other viable options would be Microsoft’s Windows CE or Windows Mobile; the former might not be robust enough nor offer variety in consumer apps while the latter doesn’t support screen resolutions that smartbooks can offer. Aside from my “tweener” device concern above, the operating system itself is my other concern. Linux is definitely capable for this type of device, but for your average consumer to use it on a device, it needs to be slick, intuitive and have a familiar feel to it. Early Linux builds customized for netbooks weren’t and as a result, Microsoft’s market share of Windows on netbooks has jumped to over 80 percent from 10 percent since February of 2008.

“We see the primary channel being wireless carriers.” – No argument there, and that’s going to help with the end-user price. I’d anticipate these devices to be offered free or for under $100 with a carrier subsidy and data plan. Of course, the challenge will be for the OEMs to develop an appealing product that the carrier wants to subsidize and sell. Smartbooks will have to complement smartphones as well, otherwise the carrier will just be selling one device over another. That tells me that very few (if any) smartbooks will likely support cellular voice. Voice over IP is another story, of course.


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