These days, Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM ) is just full of mobile milestones. As 2012 was winding down, the company surpassed Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC ) market cap for the first time ever. In the two months since, Qualcomm has extended its valuation lead over Intel.
In a way, the fact that Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs hosted the pre-show keynote at CES 2013 last night is yet another milestone that embodies the broad consumer shift to mobile that's taking place as we speak. This time Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) is the one conceding the floor to the mobile chip giant, after the software giant had long kicked off the technophile festivities for years on end. In a matter of months, Qualcomm has enjoyed symbolic events undermining the WinTel duo, which have each missed out on mobile opportunities.
Jacobs probably didn't mean it as a jab at Microsoft, but he noted, "This is the first time a mobile company has opened the Consumer Electronics Show." Intentional or not, he's clearly (and correctly) implying that Microsoft is not a mobile company.
According to Jacobs, there are more than a million mobile connections added daily and mobile connections will soon outnumber us. Qualcomm has shipped a cumulative total of over 11 billion chips. Jacobs said that while the chip industry is highly competitive, Qualcomm's advantage is that it's always been mobile first. That could easily be a passing reference to Intel's disadvantages in mobile right now.
While Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wasn't the guest of honor, he did stop by to show off and discuss various Windows devices. After all, Qualcomm is the exclusive supplier of processors for Microsoft's Windows Phones, so Ballmer and Jacobs go way back. That includes both the Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) Lumia 920 and HTC 8X that Ballmer was touting.
Ballmer also talked up Windows RT devices, but of course didn't mention Microsoft's own Surface RT tablet, as it runs on a Tegra 3 chip from Qualcomm's rival NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA ) . NVIDIA was out unveiling its newest Tegra 4 alongside a handheld gaming console at its own keynote at CES on Sunday.
Qualcomm also unveiled its newest Snapdragon processors built on its Krait architecture, the Snapdragon 600 series and Snapdragon 800 series. The high-end Snapdragon 800 uses four Krait cores and should achieve 75% CPU performance gains and double the GPU performance using a Qualcomm Adreno GPU. Also on the spec sheet is faster integrated LTE speeds and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
These are also built on one of Taiwan Semiconductor's (NYSE: TSM ) 28-nanometer nodes. The new processors will maintain Qualcomm's lead over the competition in the smartphone space, particularly from NVIDIA. It still offers the best System-on-a-Chip, or SoC, for smartphones, with its unrivaled LTE integration and focus on balancing power efficiency and performance.
The chip giant already has over 50 design wins in the pipeline that should start showing up around the middle of the year.
Qualcomm's been talking about its "Internet of Everything" ecosystem for a while now, and Jacobs circled back to some of its strategic initiatives. He also added that Qualcomm enables "all of the major mobile OS platforms," while displaying a logo of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Android. That depends on your definition of "enable," since Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) doesn't use Snapdragon processors in iDevices but it does use baseband modems from Qualcomm.
Jacobs also talked about a handful of new mobile technologies that Qualcomm is working on. Streamboost optimizes Wi-Fi bandwidth and manages network traffic to improve streaming performance. Car makers like Audi and BMW are integrating LTE into their vehicles using Qualcomm chips. Qualcomm's open-source framework for peer-to-peer communications isn't exactly new, but can play a role in connecting the tidal wave of smart TVs on the horizon. Qualcomm also has a Vuforia platform for augmented reality applications that will be used in wearable computing.
The presentation had other various tangents, like a NASCAR driver, Big Bird from Sesame Street, Pacific Rim director Guillermo Del Toro, Star Trek Into Darkness actress Alice Eve, an electric Rolls Royce, and a closing performance by Maroon 5. Most of these were barely related to the "Born Mobile" tag line and theme of the keynote, but primarily served as eye candy for attendees.
CES usually sets the stage for what types of gadgets that consumers and investors can expect throughout the year, and as more and more devices become mobile, it's rather apt for Qualcomm to be the guest of honor.
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