January 12, 2009 2:00 am

Rival lays challenge to Intel over netbooks

Qualcomm plans to challenge Intel for dominance in the fast-growing market for mini laptop computers, or netbooks, and expects many companies to use its chips in devices this year.

Intel's Atom chips power most netbooks, but Paul Jacobs, chief executive of the leading US mobile phone chip maker, expects Qualcomm's Snapdragon to break that trend this year.

However, Mr Jacobs said he also expected Intel, the leading US computer chip maker, to attempt a push into the market for smartphones at the same time - highlighting a blurring of the lines between electronic devices and the rivalry between the two groups.

"Intel is trying to figure out how to get into the smart phone space, they call them 'mids' [mobile internet devices], trying to change the name," he said.

"In the computing space, I think there's going to be a competition between Snapdragon-based netbooks and the [Intel] Atom-based netbooks," Mr Jacobs told the Financial Times at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which ended yesterday.

Mr Jacobs said at least 15 companies would launch "always connected" Snapdragon powered netbooks in the first half and he believes that they will have a significant advantage over their Intel-based counterparts.

"The interesting thing is that with Snapdragon all of the communications technology is integrated . . . it is more like a Blackberry that is always on," Mr Jacobs said.

"My e-mail is always being downloaded to it, it's not like I have to open up my laptop to go online. It's totally different. It's more real time. I am positive that it is a more attractive model."

He added that Atom-based products were relatively hungry for power when used for communications.

Mr Jacobs said Snap-dragon-powered devices would run a Linux open-source operating system rather than Microsoft Windows XP, which powers most Intel-based netbooks.

However, he acknowledged that Qualcomm and its partners would have to ensure that Snapdragon/Linux-based netbooks were easy to use.

"We are spending a lot of effort making sure that the Linux experience is a very good one," he said.

"The race is whether we can build software that is compelling to the consumer before the Intel camp finds a way to reduce its power consumption.

"We are putting a lot of effort into making sure that all the pieces of software will be there that people expect and that the user interface is good."

Mr Jacobs added: "The next two years are going to be really interesting in mobile computing because you're going to see these highly connected netbooks at very low price points - particularly if they come through an operator channel and they are subsidised."

Meanwhile, Mr Jacobs also expressed confidence that Qualcomm's Kayak initiative would help boost internet access in emerging -markets.

"Kayak is basically a cell phone in a box and instead of driving an LCD screen like on a phone, it's got a thing that can drive either a TV or a computer monitor," he explained.

"It is interesting for emerging markets because they don't have any kind of wireline connectivity to the internet . . . governments are interested in promoting it to bridge the digital divide."

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