Today is rich in development news with Google IO (San Francisco) and Uplinq (San Diego) happening at the same time in California. Both overlap on the Android front, but Qualcomm had a message of its own to developers who attended the company’s Uplinq conference in San Diego: “Snapdragon is the processor of choice for developers” – that’s basically what Qualcomm’s CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs was going for. Qualcomm had some facts to backup their claim: most LTE smartphones in the USA are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 chip, and we expect this to last for the remainder of 2012.

This doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t want to address a few thing that people ask about often, namely the current absence of quad-core product in the smartphone space. To make his point, Paul Jacobs used hard numbers: according to the company, Qualcomm’s chips are faster (and run cooler says Qualcomm) than the competition in most 3rd party benchmarks. In our recent reviews, we found the Snapdragon S4 to be leading at graphics processing, floating-point computations and Javascript execution. That said, competing quad-core chips -namely Tegra 3– have a natural upper-hand in multi-core benchmarks which are not based on floating-point ops. The high-end tablet market has also been dominated by Tegra 3 so far, but Qualcomm has demonstrated its own quad-core “Snapdragon Pro” on stage, and invited Unity a prominent game engine, to participate. This means that products may come out soon, and again the performance and LTE support could make a difference.

A unity demo during the Snapdragon presentation

Interestingly, Unity’s message was centered around Windows RT, which is the upcoming Windows 8 for ARM processors. As you may know, Microsoft’s own Surface tablet is using Tegra 3, but it is clear that other vendors will provide Windows RT hardware, and  Qualcomm will be one of the chip providers for those, in addition of being the only chip partner of Microsoft for Windows Phone 8 handsets so far. We haven’t yet heard of other competitors like TI, ST Ericson, etc… but it surely looks like a two-horse race for now. Because so many game developers use the Unity engine, Qualcomm has a huge interest in making sure that the engine works well on its chips. The best way to do that is to work with Unity during the development phase.

An AR demo for retail stores

Finally, Qualcomm has a continued focus on Augmented Reality (AR), and presented a few demos on-stage. While this is always great to watch, the practical implications of AR have not yet reached the consumer market (yet), and remain as interesting (and entertaining) experiments in my view. To be genuinely useful, AR apps need to be able to recognize objects very quickly, and this is one of the most difficult computer problems that has yet to be solved. Google recently taught a 16000 computers system to accurately recognize… cats. There are fortunately much simpler -and useful- problems that could be solved on the way, like real-time translation. Qualcomm is providing and promoting an software development kit (SDK) to help AR developers.

Obviously, the crowd present at Uplinq is largely already convinced of the importance of supporting Qualcomm’s chips and SDKs but in a very competitive world, they are always re-evaluating whether or not they are investing in the right platform, and that’s why Qualcomm and other vendors need to show regular progress and leadership. What’s your take on quad-core, AR and Windows RT?

Transparency: Qualcomm has organized a press tour for a large number of media/analysts, and our trip from San Francisco to San Diego has been arranged by Qualcomm. Many news outlet don’t disclose this, but you should know. More about our travel policy.

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