Ina Fried

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Qualcomm CEO Explains What Happened to Smartbooks

A year ago, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs was talking a lot about smartbooks.

Today, well, not so much.

For those who have already forgotten what the smartbook even was, the idea was to have a low-cost device that looked a lot like a netbook, but offered far better battery life and instant-on capabilities.

But once Apple released the iPad, everyone started focusing on tablet devices rather than on little notebooks.

“Obviously, tablets are the flavor of the day,” Jacobs said in an interview on Tuesday, ahead of his panel discussion at the Churchill Club.

The good news for Qualcomm, Jacobs said, is that the tablet requirements are basically the same as those for a smartbook.

“We probably did ourselves a little bit of a disservice by using [the term] smartbooks because people then thought notebooks and therefore it was a clamshell form factor,” he said. “We always thought about them not in terms of form factor but in terms of what they did, meaning always on, instant on, always connected, always downloading–the tablet designs that are out are doing that.”

Jacobs said we will probably see some devices with a physical keyboard, but said that next year we’ll continue to see far more slates than clamshells. The same, he notes, is also holding true for the phone.

“Keyboards on smartphones have become less and less evident for most of them,” he said.

For its part, Qualcomm is working on making its processors faster and more power efficient. A dual-core chip, due in the first half of the year, will offer five times as much performance or provide the same oomph as the current chips while using only a quarter as much power.

Since Jacobs has a good view of all the various devices coming to the market, I asked him whether he thinks that a couple of years from now we will still see five or six competing smartphone operating systems.

“A couple years from now I think we will,” he said. “Five to 10 years from now, I think there will probably be some winners and some losers although it’s pretty hard to say who those are going to be because different companies bring different things to the table.”

The carriers will bring some pressure, he said, given they have to provide support and shelf space to all the different operating systems. However, he also said it’s likely that some alternate channels will emerge beyond just sales from the carriers.

“It’s hard to put a time frame on when more consolidation will happen,” he said. “I think right now we are in a period of expansion. You are going to see more stuff….Everybody is chasing [Google] Android and Apple right now, but I think there’s room for a lot of diversity, at least in the near term.”