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Qualcomm show off latest chipsets in Science Museum

Article by: Mike Barrett
Date: 8 Sep 2010


Today was the Qualcomm IQ2010 media event held at the Science Museum in London. For those of you who are saying "Who? What?" Qualcomm are just about the biggest chipset producer for mobile devices. If you have an Android device chances are it is powered by a Qualcomm chipset.

The "What" is slightly more difficult as Qualcomm are the Intel of the mobile world they do not have any end user products. Instead they had to present the specs and features of their chipsets and demo using products of their client base such as HTC and Samsung. Interestingly I learnt about butterflies which for me was the most interesting part of the day, but more about that later.

The Qualcomm chipset originally handled the RF and Power Management, but the latest Snapdragon Chipset is a single chipset solution containing CPU, GPU, Power Management, Modem, GPS, Multimedia etc. All of this is ARM based with open source development tools packaged into a dual core package running at speeds up to 1.5GHz.

The concept of these new chipsets is to enable a new generation of connected devices. This year had seen the launch of the hugely successful iPad (not Qualcomm powered) but this new chipset is for device manufacturers who wish to compete head to head with Apple. We saw a number of small (5-7") tablets in the demo area, these will start to hit the stores soon, and of course the Android based Dell Streak is already there.

Much of the presentation was dedicated to (not surprisingly) communications. The buzz-word of the day was HSPA+, but not just HSPA+ dual carrier providing speeds of 42Mb. That is over twice the "up-to" 20Mb quoted by my fixed line provider. There is a forecast that in the next few years wireless will be everywhere. It will not just be the 3G/4G technology, but NFC (near field communications) allowing devices to communicate peer to peer. It will also use Femtocell which allows users in low signal areas to create a wireless cell connected through fixed line broadband. The future communication mechanisms will allow transparent and seamless connections over the most optimal technology.

Augmented Reality
Another feature presented was Augmented Reality, here we saw a demonstration of camera in a phone recognising a digital picture frame and allowing the picture to be set using near field communications. This was probably the only real media demo we could report on as this was a real live demo (which unlike Apple's worked flawlessly). This was a proof of concept demo using an Android powered HTC device Qualcomm's CEO Paul Jacobs first selected an image from the picture gallery and then located a picture frame using the camera on the SmartPhone. Once the image and frame were selected Paul commanded the image to the frame. Just to prove this was not a set-up he then took a picture of one of his colleagues and promptly sent that to another frame. The only thing that went wrong was that Paul kept calling Enrico Luigi. He realised his mistake and apologised giving Luigi sorry Enrico a big hug. You can see this at the end of the video.

Another example of the practical implementation of these communications technologies is in the health care arena. Here we were shown a concept of an app on a device being able to monitor various aspects of your life-signs and alert both the user and a health centre of possible issues. The sensors include not only the traditional heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, temperature etc, but also a "smart pill". You would swallow the pill and it would communicate with the device on it's travels through your digestive system.

Display technology
Whilst what went before was very interesting, and showed a number of different collaborating technologies, of far greater interest was Mirasol. Yes I saved the best for last!

Mirasol is a display technology that is similar to that used on the Kindle. It uses reflected light to display the images on the screen. The technology is based on the same principle as a butterfly, something known as Interferometric Modulation. The concept being that the display panel has two plates with an air gap in between. The light is reflected in this gap to provide the visible display. This technology is so good that it can be used in bright sunlight an area where backlit displays suffer. Unlike the E-Book displays the Mirasol panel is able to display full colour video at a frame rate of up to 30fps without using any extra power.

The claimed power saving from this display technology ranges from about 3 times for video to over 20 times for books comparing a 5.7" Mirasol display to a 7" OLED. The savings are not quite so dramatic when you compare it to a 6.1" LCD display with 50% backlight turning in figures of 50% for video and 450% for books. It is still a vast improvement on current technology.
Posted by Greenglide on Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:35 am Reply with quote

The "What" is slightly more difficult as Qualcomm are the Intel of the mobile world they do not have any end user products.

And like Intel (until recently) and the majority of the embedded smart devices they use ARM processors designed and licenced from ARM Holdings PLC in the UK who:-

The world’s leading semiconductor IP company
Founded in 1990
Over 15 billion ARM based chips shipped to date
600 processor licenses sold to more than 200 companies
Royalties received on all ARM-based chips
Gaining market share in long-term secular growth markets
ARM revenues typically grow faster than overall semiconductor industry revenues

But being a British success story we keep very quiet about it don't we!

We all know that the world's first stored programme computer was the "Manchester Baby" built by Manchester University don't we! There is an excellent working reconstruction at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) - well worth a vist!

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