Qualcomm Pulls Out All the Stops in “Born Mobile” Keynote

Qualcomm is a company that’s largely lurked behind the scenes in the mobile industry. It’s developed and supplied the modems, processors, and graphics chips inside today’s smartphones and tablets — basically everything that actually powers them and allows them to connect to the web. Today, Qualcomm stepped out of the shadows as CEO Paul Jacobs used CES’s opening keynote to talk about how Qualcomm is leading what it called the “mobile generation.”

“Being asked to kick start CES reflects how mobile technology has evolved from a luxury to a critical part of our everyday lives, really no matter where you live throughout the world,” Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs told Wired via email.

Throughout Qualcomm’s keynote, it provided star-studded examples and demonstrations of how mobile technology has infiltrated everything from education to the film industry to entertainment.

Building on the theme of the keynote, “Born Mobile” — how Qualcomm has been involved in mobile since the beginning, and how mobile has impacted so much of our lives — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a surprise appearance onstage, during the time slot where Microsoft had traditionally given the opening keynote. Ballmer touted Windows RT and the latest Windows Phone, both of which are powered by Qualcomm chips.

“We power all the major mobile OS platforms,” Jacobs said during the keynote.

The headline technology announcement was the company’s new quadcore Snapdragon 800 series of processors. They provide super speedy (up to 150 GB per second) download speeds over LTE Advanced, and 802.11AC WiFi allows for improved connectivity at home or in the office. It supports CPU speeds of up to 2.3 GHz per core. It’s so powerful, you can view Ultra HD (4k) video and capture it on your mobile device. And it consumes half the power of its predecessor. That’s important, as our unquenchable data thirst (Qualcomm is expecting a 1000x increase in network data usage in the next decade) puts a huge strain on device batteries.

But what made this keynote stand out wasn’t the content, it was the presentation. A seemingly random collection of minor celebrities and notables trotted across the stage, including Guillermo del Toro, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, Star Trek’s Alice Eve, and even Big Bird. What do these people (or Muppets) have in common? Not much other than a willingness to tout some facet of Qualcomm’s coming mobile future.

To close the presentation, Qualcomm showed how its technology is used to enable wireless charging for electric vehicles. How? By driving a modified, electric-powered Rolls Royce onto the stage, followed by a performance by Maroon 5.

“In terms of consumer awareness, we are probably not the first company that comes to mind when you think of mobile,” Jacobs told Wired. “I think this will change as consumers are becoming more and more tech savvy—they want to know what’s inside their devices, and that’s beginning to drive purchasing decisions.”

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