The fact that Qualcomm is not the exclusive system on a chip (or SoC / processor) is making the headlines today, for some reason. Although Qualcomm has always said that (factually) it was the only player available on Windows Phone 7 (WP7), I’m pretty sure that I heard Qualcomm’s CEO Paul Jacobs say that this was not an “exclusive” in the sense that Microsoft could not use another hardware partner. This is clearly not “news”. It seems that some media outlets have picked on a recent declaration from Qualcomm VP Raj Talluri saying that “there is no written exclusive”, and somehow interpreted (or transformed) it as news.Microsoft has said during the WP7 launch that Qualcomm chips would serve as a “reference” platform, which means that it is the chip used to develop, bring up and launch Windows Phone 7.
As we already know, ST-Ericsson chips will power Nokia’s upcoming WP7 smartphones, and it is hoped that the volume will be huge (for WP7), so this is no small deal. Microsoft’s best interest is to have a healthy Windows Phone 7 eco-system, so this means more hardware and software partners. As far as I know, the platform has always been open to all, at least, conceptually.
But some would ask: why is Samsung, Texas Instruments, and other SoC vendors absent from WP7 devices today (implying that there is a secret deal)? This may sound like a mystery question, but the answer is quite simple: Microsoft’s WP7 team is writing most of the hardware drivers, and they simply had their hands full handling the Qualcomm chips.
In the Android world, the chip manufacturer and the handset maker software teams handle huge amounts of code. If you aggregate all the software engineers that work on Android phones, there are thousands, or tens of thousands of software engineers working towards end products, even if the Google Android team itself is quite small (200?). Partners do pull a lot of weight.
At the moment, Windows Phone 7 engineering is mainly done by Microsoft, with some help from the chip vendor. This is not scalable to an array of chips, at least for the moment. I suspect that once the platform is more stable, Microsoft can open driver development to more people, and things will get moving faster.
So what’s the fuss about? Drama of course!