Qualcomm ready to ARM-wrestle Nvidia to bits

Communications giant Qualcomm has reiterated its focus on integrated solutions for the mobile market, explaining its plans for the Snapdragon and Adreno platforms and its vision of the world beyond the processor.

Speaking to thinq_ earlier today, Qualcomm's Enrico Salvatori explained why his company has what it takes to compete in the rapidly growing ARM licensee market - and what surprises the company has in store for the future.

"Snapdragon has been such a successful product for us," Salvatori explained, referring to the company's ARM-based system-on-chip design that has found a home in many high-end smartphones and tablets from a variety of manufacturers.

Salvatori believes that one of the biggest factors in the success of Snapdragon, which competes with rival chips from the likes of Nvidia and Samsung, is its wide-ranging software support. "Support for a variety of software is fully integrated into the hardware," he told us. "We integrate with Android, Microsoft [Windows Mobile OS], webOS - we support all the platforms that the market and our customers are requesting."

The biggest advantage Qualcomm has, however, is the sheer scale of integration on offer. Thanks to its recent purchase of Wi-Fi specialist Atheros, the company is able to offer single-chip solutions that include Snapdragon processors, Adreno graphics engines, Gobi multi-format 3G and LTE radio systems, Wi-Fi connectivity, and GPS with GLONASS support for the Russian market.

"Integration is key to our perspective and our vision. A fully integrated platform enables our customers to reduce the power consumption, the number of components, and the form factor and size of their devices," Salvatori explained - although he did admit that the company's most recent range of tablet-oriented chips do not include 3G or LTE connectivity, due to a lack of customer demand.

Salvatori admitted that tablets were a key part of the company's future, describing the devices as an obvious amalgamation of smartphone and netbook. Despite this, of the 150 designs that Qualcomm's customers are currently building around the Snapdragon platform, a mere twenty are tablets.

Looking ahead, the company has some interesting developments on the horizon. As well as its quad-core Snapdragon design, which will scale to 2.5GHz per core, and next-generation Adreno GPUs for high-performance user interfaces and gaming, the company is investing a lot of money in finding the 'next big thing.'

"Innovation is a key part of our strategy," Salvatori explained. "In 2010, around 23 per cent of our total revenue was invested in research and development." This heavy investment has allowed the company to come up with some interesting products, including the addition of support for the Russian GLONASS system to its GPS receivers and fully integrated Near Field Communications technology along with something which may come as a surprise: wireless charging technology.

Due to be unveiled soon, Qualcomm's wireless charging solution isn't something you would normally associate with the chipmaker - although Qualcomm is also the company responsible for the Mirasol sunlight-readable display. The technology would allow Qualcomm's smartphone and tablet customers to integrate wire-free charging into their systems - and the company is joining others in the industry to help spread adoption of the technology.

Following our conversation with Salvatori, one thing is clear: Qualcomm isn't feeling worried about the rise of Nvidia in the ARM market, and has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to keep itself relevant.