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Mobile Software: Driving Innovation in the Multi-Core Era

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Mobile hardware is progressing at a blistering pace. Displays continue to increase in size, color quality and resolution, while advancements such as glasses-free 3-D offer the promise of novel user experiences. Processors are adding cores and clock speed faster than ever before, and 4G radios have brought broadband data speeds to mobile devices. These unprecedented hardware innovations have set the stage for a brave new world of mobile computing in which nearly anything is possible on hand-held devices. However, they account for only part of the equation.

In order to deliver the type of user experiences enabled by these innovations software must keep pace – otherwise we will fall painfully short of capitalizing on the opportunities presented by these hardware achievements. This goes beyond the need for innovations in OSes and applications, to the underlying software that ties everything together. It’s the next great challenge faced by the mobile industry.

Software as the Connective Tissue of the Phone

When it comes to mobile software, the importance of operating systems and applications is well understood. The battle for smartphone OS market share evokes a feverish MLB pennant race, and the fact that we’re all hopelessly addicted to Angry Birds proves that mobile apps have thoroughly permeated the mainstream.

Less understood, however, is the importance of the underlying software layer; the connective tissue that ties hardware to software, such as optimizations between OS and chipset, performance advancements in web technology, and enhanced app performance. Without these efforts, gigahertz, cores and megabytes of RAM are nothing more than points on a spec sheet. In order to deliver the best possible mobile experiences, hardware and software cannot be viewed separately. They are attached at the hip, and integrating them to work in perfect unison is the key to driving mobile innovation forward.

Immediate benefits of intelligent integration include better graphical frame rates in games, faster web page downloads and smoother rendering and scrolling. These are just a sampling of the user experience improvements that will help mobile devices keep up with ever-increasing consumer expectations.

Innovating for the Future of the Mobile Web

All too often, the primary focus is on what the consumer wants today. It is our job to anticipate what the consumer will want tomorrow and innovate accordingly.

While today’s consumers are still largely enamored with the simple inclusion of mobile browsers, tomorrow’s expectations will include desktop-level browser performance, Web pages and apps running on par with native apps and smooth HD multimedia streaming like the desktop equivalent. This is possible via complex but informed optimizations to the HTTP networking layer, HTML5 browser core, and JavaScript engine. While powerful processors will strongly influence robust Web experiences, the mobile software layer is significantly impacting how we get the most out of mobile hardware and continue to innovate on behalf of the consumer experience.

While HTML5 will play an important role in the evolution of the mobile Web, it won’t come to fruition until mobile devices support the specification fully, from web and enterprise apps to entertainment and browsing. Forward-thinking developers making the transition to HTML5-based web apps stand to reap the benefits. The HTML5 family of standards runs faster, more efficiently and with greater capabilities when the hardware and software have been tightly integrated.

The biggest remaining hurdle is ensuring that the same array of device capabilities, such as camera access, is available to Web apps as their native counterparts. To this end, companies like Qualcomm (s qcom) are enabling a rich set of device APIs within the browser so that Web apps have that same detailed control and usage of the device’s hardware.

Collaboration Is Key

The mobile industry is built on partnerships within the diverse lines of business that make up the ecosystem and we must continue to work closely together to make these advancements a reality — from ensuring common device APIs are defined, implemented, and utilized to working hand in hand across the mobile ecosystem to deliver web experiences that go beyond what we ever experienced on a PC. All stand to benefit greatly by software’s ongoing impact on mobile, and efficient collaboration will expedite that process. Ultimately, intelligent and tight OS integration within the chip provides time to market advantages for OEMs who will see their devices running faster, smoother and more efficiently.

Enhancing mobile software is not a trickle down process. It starts with the seamless hardware integration and ends with developers bringing the experience to life. If we are serious about a future where mobile phones are responsible for tasks currently held by computers we need to embrace the role of software in overall mobile performance and continue strongly supporting the software developers that are driving innovation.

Rob Chandhok is president of Qualcomm Internet Services and helps drive software strategy for Qualcomm’s client and server platforms. He and other mobile industry thought leaders will be discussing these topics and more June 1-2 at Uplinq 2011 in San Diego. His Twitter handle is @robchandhok

6 Responses to “Mobile Software: Driving Innovation in the Multi-Core Era”

  1. Does it really matter what we call it? The market has decided to call it a phone, and 99.99% of English speakers who are familiar with such devices are comfortable with that. I don’t really see how changing the name is going to significantly change the public’s perception of the device.

    Its obvious you are very tech savvy, but most smartphone users are not. Their primary motivations are the benefits derived from the device, not it’s stats (or even it’s OS, necessarily). People unfamiliar with OS’s who may not have done their homework didn’t buy Android or Windows Phone-based smartphones all the time, based solely on a 5-minute demo at a retail outlet.

    Does it have a good connection speed/coverage? Is it good looking and have a smooth interface? Can it text, browse, video chat, take good pics, play Angry Birds, do my taxes, stimulate my fat wife, ect ect? Can I get it for $49 if I sign a 2 year contract?

    This is the way the public views the smartphone market. This is the value the average consumer derives from smartphone ownership, and these are the factors smartphone companies, manufacturers and service providers, emphasize when advertising their phones.

  2. Adam Dunn

    Nitin you pose a powerful argument. A starting place may be to calling these things we carry around as “knowledge sharing engines”. Or if I sit back and channel Deleuse and Foucoult for a moment. Maybe ”Power sharing engines” may be a better term. Especially of one considers their use in the middle East at present.

  3. Hi Rob,

    Met you briefly at Uplinq last year.
    I’ve been following the great work you and the team at Qualcomm have been doing with HTML5 integration into hardware, over the last year and a half or so. It will be awesome to see Webkit/HTML5 with JS integrated device API’s all optimized for Snapdragon.
    Just a thought that might help widen the dialog – could we all stop calling these devices “phones”. Because just cognitively it minimizes all this powerful stuff and we mentally reduce this device to something you hold up to your ear and speak into. And that just isn’t doing justice to all the power of this multi-core hand held device.
    “Mobile computing” is adequate for the verb but “mobile computer” is not a good name – we need a new name for this very powerful thing we are carrying around – and “smartphone” is not enough. Not sure what the right word is but it can’t be anything with “phone” in it.

    Just a thought.

    Keep up the awesome work.