At the formal kick-off event of this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs took the stage with the claim that this was the first year that "a mobile company" - namely a company that isn't Microsoft - would be doing the honors. But just minutes into the presentation, none other than Steve Ballmer himself rushed onto the stage to join the head of the ubiquitous chipmaker - quelle surprise! (Note: Please don't see 5 Things That You Won't See At CES 2013!)
In classic hyperactive used-car salesman fashion, Ballmer delivered a quick blitz on Windows Phone and Windows RT for tablets, highlighting the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC 8X but stopping short of announcing any real Windows news. (Ballmer's surprise appearance was met with enthusiasm, but Sesame Street's Big Bird earned the only standing ovation, during a demo late in the keynote.)
Qualcomm's Star Parade
Ballmer wasn't the only special guest, though after announcing that Microsoft would take a break from the annual electronics event, he was certainly the most unexpected. Movie director Guillermo del Toro made a cameo to promote his upcoming film Pacific Rim, an apocalyptic robot sci-fi epic in which many things appear to explode. Other guest stars included Alice Eve, geek-bait from the upcoming Star Trek film, Into Darkness, Nobel-prize-winning South African social rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu (via video) and soulful crooners Maroon 5 - or Maroon 3, considering that only two members were present for the croonage.
Born Mobile: The CES 2013 Mantra
Before the star power full-court press, the crowd was treated to a heavy-handed skit depicting this zany digital era - and the apparent elation of constant connectivity. According to Jacobs, 84% of people say that can't go a single day without mobile. On stage, we were met with three such characters: a l33t-speaking gamer guy, a Bluetooth-sporting startup type and a Facebook-happy tween.
What does it mean to be "born mobile"? Business, gaming and social media are certainly three answers to that question, but Jacobs also skated across the impact of mobile technology in every emerging sector, from accessible healthcare in the developing world to educational apps, like Sesame Street's "Big Bird's Words" that steep children in a visual world of words as they learn to read.
Qualcomm Debuts Next-Gen Snapdragon
Of course, no keynote is complete without a product launch. On stage, Jacobs announced the evolution of its Snapdragon processor, the Snapdragon 600 and 800. The 600 is an incremental upgrade, but the 800 is a leap forward. The 800 series chip leverages LTE Advanced to support download speeds that blow vanilla LTE out of the water. The 800 will also support HD sound and ultra HD video, which boasts four times the resolution of regular HD.
On mobile devices, the chip will also support video capture of ultra HD files. To keep all of those major processes running, the 800 series will pack a quad core CPU that consumes half the power of its predecessor.
"Snapdragon is really built from the ground up for mobile. We meticulously optimized the hardware and software to deliver the best experience. We have the advantage of being mobile natives."
Welcome To The Internet Of Everything
But Qualcomm isn't the only mobile native. According to Jacobs, "Mobile is the largest technology platform in human history." And as sensors are increasingly present in out lives, "Our phones will become even more connected with sensors on, or even in, our bodies... They'll be providing us with something we call our digital sixth sense. It's kind of like making the real world clickable."
The intersection of this vast interconnectivity and increasingly high fidelity chunks of data - think UltraHD movies or expansive gaming worlds - comes with some steep challenges. Strapped for spectrum already, the growing demand for 3G and 4G bandwidth to ferry huge files to and fro will call for some creative problem solving.
Qualcomm anticipates that strain on mobile networks will increase by a factor of 1,000 - and it's betting on small cells to ease the burden. "Small cells are kind of like a wifi access point, but they provide cellular connectivity too, " says Jacobs. "The goal we have is to bring the network closer to the user. You can basically have a tiny cell phone tower on your bookshelf."
With 6.4 billion mobile connections worldwide and almost one million new smartphones activated every day, the mobile growth curve is explosive. In this fast-emerging "internet of everything", Qualcomm's riff on the internet of things, every device can communicate fluidly - and everything is a device.