Many companies, like Apple, are consumer-focused and offer products that resonate with the masses. From smartphones to smart speakers the world is watching as Google, Apple and Samsung fill the consumer space with an interconnected assortment of exciting new devices.
Qualcomm, the company that makes the processors that power much of our mobile technology, is less known by the regular Joe and less exciting to write about for outlets, but a necessary player nonetheless. Additionally, Microsoft's dwindling presence in the consumer space is bringing the company's long-standing mission to provide the tools others use to "do more," to the forefront.
Both companies, one by virtue of how it has always operated, and the other as a product of a shift from the consumer space, are laser-focused on providing the platforms that power the technology the world uses.
The tools we use
Microsoft's platform strategy is broad and diverse. It includes an operating system that spans a family of devices, a cloud strategy second only to Amazon, and an IoT and intelligent edge strategy targeting tens of billions of devices. It also provides a platform for augmented and virtual reality, AI and bots, gaming, and even quantum computing.
Microsoft provides companies, OEM partners, and individuals with the tools to create products and services in each of these areas.
Microsoft and Qualcomm want to provide the platforms that will support the industry's products.
This strategy differs significantly from that of consumer-focused companies that push products designed for specific purposes based on that company's vision. Marketing plays a much bigger role in these strategies since informing consumers of the company's vision for the product is paramount to its adoption. Conversely, Microsoft's mission is akin to providing businesses and individuals with a toolbox filled with the appropriate tools for them to create their unique visions to "achieve more."
Qualcomm's strategy parallels Microsoft. It provides the foundation for the technology we use. For instance, before the smartphone became mainstream in 2007, Qualcomm worked on the technology that made smartphones possible. Qualcomm's goal, according to CEO Steve Mollenkopf is to "invent the core technologies and the tools that allow the mobile roadmap to move forward."
As it did with smartphones, Qualcomm wants to provide the fundamental cellular technologies that people will use ten years later and that brings innovation to business models. I know that's not exciting for the guy looking for a shiny new smartphone but without the cellular technology Qualcomm provides, smartphones would be shiny new paperweights.
Mollenkopf said this of Qualcomm's mission:
Qualcomm is this big innovation house that tries to figure out how we can get as many people as possible using the cellular roadmap. The smartphone is just the first step along that journey.
Whereas tech pundits focus on what type of device will succeed the smartphone, Qualcomm, and if you look closely, Microsoft, are focused on the technologies that will power the next shift in computing. Cloud computing, IoT and the intelligent edge are where Microsoft is placing its bets. And Qualcomm is innovating technologies parallel to this vision that will enable its implementation on a broad scale.
We can see computing move to the intelligent cloud led by Amazon, Microsoft and Google even now. Qualcomm wants to provide the fundamental industry tools to empower innovation in this area. It's not betting on a particular implementation of the technology, however. For instance, in the past, Qualcomm anticipated the data connection would be essential. So it invested in video and audio compression technologies that made data transfer easier. That bet paid off.
Microsoft and Qualcomm are betting on cloud computing and big data.
In a similar manner, Qualcomm anticipates that the next significant shift will be in massive data transfers with low latency, which will profoundly affect computing. This vision coincides with Microsoft's cloud computing and intelligent edge vision of computing. As more computing power — data — moves from the cloud to the intelligent edge, where devices close to the user process the data, supporting technologies will have to be in place to facilitate the process. This is where Qualcomm is focusing innovation.
Secure networks for autonomous cars and remote healthcare
Autonomous cars and connected healthcare are part of the intelligent edge. These mission-critical industries require highly secure networks for both privacy and safety purposes. Qualcomm is attempting to create the technology that will support robust and secure networks so that investments in autonomous vehicles and remote delivery of healthcare can develop. Without secure communication networks, the broader industry goals to scale and build infrastructure for these technologies can't be met.
Many Microsoft fans are upset the company doesn't have the smartphone-based in-car presence iOS and Android have. That's understandable. But analogous to Qualcomm investments, Microsoft's Connected Vehicle Platform supports devices behind the scenes.
Furthermore, Microsoft's hospital (and workplace) focused AI-driven cameras can access patient information and support staff. The secure network technology Qualcomm will provide is paramount to the widespread implementation of this tech.
Cellular PCs, 5G and new business models
Qualcomm's goal to "get as many people as possible using the cellular roadmap" fits organically with Microsoft's personal computing goals. Cellular PCs using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor are coming this year. With its cloud-focused strategy, Microsoft wants as many people as possible always connected to its cloud-based services. Cellular PCs will enable the necessary always-connected scenario for the masses.
The long view is that always-connected PCs connected to the intelligent edge will become the norm. With 5G introduction in 2018 (and continued growth thereafter) there will be greater capacity, data rates and lower latency for these and other edge devices — like your shiny new smartphone. Mollenkopf shares that new businesses are poised to become part of the cellular roadmap just as 5G is implemented. More eSIM-equipped IoT devices are also expected.
Furthermore, as bandwidth increases and latency drops, Mollenkopf envisions data centers moving closer to where the data is used, enabling distributed computing. Complimentary to this view is Microsoft's goal to support distributed networks on its intelligent edge. Mollenkopf says:
When everything gets connected, and the computing power is resident at the spot that the data exists, and...companies [are] saying...how can I change my business model?... People are...saying this is going to be so significant to economies, the growth of jobs, growth of economy.
Synergy in the shadows
In a connected world where processing and AI power is profoundly increased at the local device level, business models, economies and governments will be poised for a transformation akin to what smartphones introduced. Microsoft is positioning itself to reap the financial rewards of providing the platforms for these new economies.
As Mollenkopf shared, smartphones were just the beginning. Qualcomm and Microsoft's positioning to power the next shift also include Microsoft's device family (including potential ultramobile PCs) that will run on the intelligent edge and Qualcomm processors that will power connected devices.
Microsoft drifting from the consumer space toward primarily being a platform provider disappoints many fans including yours truly. But its relationship with Qualcomm may ensure its relevance in an always-connected future where the devices we use will rely on the platforms these companies provide.
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