Qualcomm adds to a mobile chip fragmentation issue

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You may not care who makes the processing chip in your smartphone or tablet yet, but if chip makers have their way, you will in the future.

Qualcomm announced on Wednesday that it is expanding its Snapdragon GamePack to more than 100 mobile apps, some of which are exclusive to devices running on Qualcomm Snapdragon chips. Consumers can learn about GamePack apps in Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon GameCommand, a central place to find them.

Both the new games and the central location to find them will appear in 2012, says Qualcomm, although there are already some Android games available today in the GamePack, which launched in June. These software titles are specifically optimized to take advantage of the graphics capability in Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon chips, now available in four¬†performance¬†brands called S1, S2, S3 and S4, the latter being the most advanced.

Forgive me for coming down harshly here, but do we really need more fragmentation in the market for Android devices? I think not. Between Google pushing out new versions of Android quickly and carriers being slow to forward them to consumer devices, the Android market is already made up of a wide range of devices with differing capabilities. How exactly does the release of chip-specific, exclusive games help with the problem?

The fact is, it doesn’t, and it sets the precedent for even more component fragmentation in the future. Imagine if certain Android applications only ran on touchscreen displays made by Samsung and not those from LG, for example? Heck, most consumers don’t know — or care — who made the display, or chip, for that matter, on their device. In another industry, say for automobiles, this situation would be akin to choosing a car that can only drive on certain roads if it has a particular engine.

Qualcomm isn’t alone on this path: Nvidia, one of Qualcomm’s largest competitors, offers similar software and a storefront for Tegra-optimized games called TegraZone. I didn’t like this situation when Nvidia announced it earlier this year, and I don’t like it any more today.

At one point, some Samsung Galaxy S 2 handsets were reportedly running on a Tegra chip while others weren’t, allowing for the same consumer handset not being able to run a consistent set of apps. True, non-optimized versions of the same apps were available with fewer game levels or features, but that doesn’t solve the potential problem.

Ironically, Qualcomm is holding an analyst day on Wednesday, when it will continue to push out news and talk about its chip portfolio. One such future product that could be running on Qualcomm chips is a new smart TV, according to CNet. Let’s hope a Snapdragon TV doesn’t have access to exclusive channels and connected apps.

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