Qualcomm Tries to Steal Spotlight From Apple, iPhone X

On the eve of Apple's new iPhone launch event, Qualcomm publishes a list of "firsts" brought by the chip maker and Android smartphone OEMs.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm officials looked to steal some of the attention away from longtime partner and recent legal adversary Apple a day before the giant device maker was set to roll out the latest generation of its iPhone as well as other systems.

Apple executives were in the company’s new campus in Cupertino, Calif., Sept. 12 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the launch of their first iPhone by rolling out the much-anticipated and pricy iPhone X device, iPhone 8 smartphones and a new Apple Watch. The event and the new devices themselves—including the iPhone X’s rumored $1,000 price—had garnered a lot of media attention in the preceding weeks and promise to eat up a lot of the spotlight in the coming days.

But the day before, an executive with Qualcomm—which has long been an Apple partner, with its silicon products powering iPhones and other devices—in a post on the company blog touted the technological accomplishments it and Android smartphone makers have accomplished over the past several years and the large number of devices that use those innovations. It was an apparent swipe at Apple, which has been in a high-profile legal dispute with Qualcomm for most of the year.

In the blog, Francisco Cheng, director of technical marketing at Qualcomm, listed 20 “notable firsts on Android” and the “respective mobile devices where they appeared that paved the way for others to come.” The list includes such technologies as dual cameras, iris authentication and facial recognition, OLED displays, Bluetooth 5, a water-resistant touch screen, Gigabit LTE and Virtual 5.1 surround speakers, all appearing first on systems from the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG Electronics, Xiaomi and Sony.

“Our model is to make our inventions available as broadly as possible to the mobile industry through our licensing program, from start-ups to global companies,” Cheng wrote. “From augmented reality to Gigabit LTE and Ultra HD video on mobile, we tackle the difficult system-level problems early on to create a low-barrier of entry for the entire mobile ecosystem, established and incumbent companies alike.”

Qualcomm has become the world’s dominant mobile chip maker, leveraging ARM-based designs to create systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that power most of the smartphones that run Google’s Android mobile operating system. Android devices from Samsung and other manufacturers pose the major competitive challenge to Apple and the iPhones that run the company’s iOS.

Cheng wrote that Qualcomm integrates innovations into its mobile platforms and then works with OEMs like Samsung, HTC, LG and Lenovo’s Motorola business to “commercialize our inventions at both speed and scale, and with a choice for consumers on price points and features.” The innovations also are fueling the rise of China-based device makers like Vivo an Oppo, he noted.

At the same time, Qualcomm’s cellular modems have been a regular feature in Apple iPhones. Modems enable smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to connect to wireless networks. For years, Apple only used Qualcomm’s modems in the devices, but the device maker began using Intel modems in some versions of the iPhone 7, which came out last year. The other iPhone 7s use Qualcomm technology.

It’s the licensing of those modems that are at the center of the wide-ranging licensing and patent legal dispute between Apple and Qualcomm. Apple earlier this year filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Qualcomm claiming the chip maker is using its dominant position in the global modem market to force smartphone manufacturers to pay high royalties on every device they sell. The royalties cover technological breakthroughs that Qualcomm had nothing to do with, Apple officials claim.

Qualcomm has disputed the allegation and has filed complaints against Apple for allegedly infringing on Qualcomm patents. Qualcomm has also asked the International Trade Commission to ban the infringing iPhones from being sold in the United States.