Saturday, April 4, 2009

San Diego's Android connection

Last week I was able to attend an Android event held in Sorrento Mesa. Despite the inextricable link between Android and its Google parent, San Diego has a strong representation in the Android ecosystem.

At the event — as at any gathering of SD telecom companies — the 600 lb. gorilla was Qualcomm. The big Q was one of the five founding members of the Open Handset Alliance.

Of the four presenters, two were local companies among the 34 OHA founders: Qualcomm and PacketVideo. Three other non-local founders were also represented: host Wind River (based near Oakland but acquired a San Diego operation) and attendees from LG and Sprint.

The panel was
  • Jason Bremner, Senior Director, Product Management, Qualcomm QCT (responsible for Multimedia, Winmobile, and all activities surrounding Android at QCT).
  • Dr. Cheuk Chan, Senior Vice President, CORE Client Products, PacketVideo (Dr. Chan's team is responsible for PV's OpenCore, which is the multimedia framework for Android)
  • David Tokunaga, Director of Technology Marketing, Nokia
  • Egil Gronstad, VP Technology Planning, Leap Wireless
Bremner talked how Qualcomm’s traditional two application platforms — Brew and Java — now include BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Android and Linux. In the future it will also be supporting Brew MP, Flash and Symbian.

Qualcomm is providing chipsets for a wide range of Android devices. The first Android phone, the G1, was launched with Q’s MSM 7201A (which will also be used with the HTC Magic). Bremner said Qualcomm had the “industry’s broadest chipset support for Android,” with three levels:
  • QSD 8650: with 1 GHz MID, 720p HD video (suitable for Android-based netbooks)
  • MSM 7600: The replacement for the 7201A, a WVGA video chip suitable for smartphones.
  • MSM 7627: designed for sub $150 smartphones with VGA video
Chan talked about how formation of the Open Handset Alliance dates to 2006 — the year after Google acquired Android and a year before the public announcement of the Open Handset Alliance.

Tokunaga talked about general principles of open platforms in the context of the Nokia-owned Symbian open source platform. My ears perked up when he talked about “open enough” platforms — open enough to attract third party enhancements but closed enough to be controlled by a firm. (The reason my ears perked up is that “How open is open enough?” was the title of my 2003 paper on open source firms strategies).

Finally, Gronstad talked about this from Cricket’s standpoint. (Egil gave us a long intro on Leap, and several of us noted that the company and its Cricket brand are well known locally.) He talked about their plans to have its CDMA network open to all devices, both those it sells and those it does not. Someday (perhaps not soon) there will be a Cricket smartphone — just as there is already a Metro PCS smartphone (a two-year-old Qualcomm-enabled BlackBerry 8830 once exclusive to Verizon).

Qualcomm working with vendors for more than 20 Android-enable devices. However, a third party developer noted that handset vendors are holding off on releasing new phones because the performance and user experience is not there. Bremner said that “On the G1, we compromised on featureset and performance” to get the device to market, but now the top priority at the Q is to optimize Android performance with the MSM chipsets.

Overall, this partly answers one of my long-term questions. With CDMA going away as a separate air interface, what will be the Qualcomm-specific ecosystem or the benefit of wireless companies to locate in San Diego? There clearly is an increasing role for QCOM chipsets in shipping phones on the CDMA side, and also for Q’s expertise on platform support, thus giving local application developers a leg up over most of the rest of the country.

2 comments: said...

Great article!
Fascinating how things are turning out, ANDROID is once again teaching the importance of OPEN a short period of time it is close to overtake the iPhone's market share. I also see Microsoft sweating bullets with this one!

david said...

Aha, very interesting to know that about the San Diego's Android connection. I too live in San Diego hence I may think of getting benefited as Qualcomm is providing chipsets for a wide range of Android devices.