In true flashy Vegas fashion, Qualcomm Inc. CEO Paul Jacobs showed off his company's latest technology at the Consumer Electronics Show with the help of a string of entertainers, including Maroon 5, a “Star Trek” star, a NASCAR champion and Big Bird from "Sesame Street."
Jacobs delivered the opening keynote for 2013 International CES at the Venetian in Las Vegas on Monday night, making history as the first mobile company to make the first speech at the world's largest innovation event. In years past, tech visionaries like Bill Gates have held the honor.
The event opened with a trio of actors explaining why they are “born mobile,” which is Qualcomm's motto for CES. Qualcomm, which has historically remained mum over its dominance in the chipmaking industry, used the Vegas stage to assert its leading mobile position.
Jacobs proudly proclaimed his company (Nasdaq: QCOM) as the No. 1 supplier of wireless chips. Qualcomm's signature Snapdragon processors, an integrated chip with “jaw-dropping speeds,” is the chipset of choice for most smartphone makers, he said. It currently powers 500 devices, with more than 400 models in design.
“Mobile is the largest technology platform in human history. Now smartphones replace the PC as the largest computing platform,” Jacobs said.
Despite Snapdragon's popularity, he acknowledges that the chip industry is a highly competitive one.
"We have the advantage of being mobile natives, continually creating new breakthrough products for companies like Microsoft,” Jacobs said.
The animated Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), proceeded to crash the keynote to demonstrate some of the new Windows devices running on Snapdragon. They included the Samsung Ativ and Dell XPS.
Microsoft has re-imagined Windows to introduce new forms of mobile devices to the world, Ballmer explained.
“Super fast and fluid tablets, connected to the world of apps,” Jacobs added.
About 10,000 apps were added in the last month alone, including Expedia and FitBit.
“Hours and hours of entertainment with plenty of power and connectivity to get your work done,” Jacobs said.
The desire around the world to stay connected to people at all times is a driving force of mobile. About 5 billion smartphones will be sold from 2012 to 2016.
For those in developing regions who may not be able to afford a computer, a smartphone may be the first and only computing device they use.
“More smartphones are being sold in China than any other country," Jacobs said. "Mobile is breaking down barriers and bridging divides.”
Jacobs unveiled the next big thing in mobile: a tiny chip that will take gaming and video viewing to the next level.
The Snapdragon 800 processors, which Jacobs calls the most advanced wireless processor ever built, is the flagship of the Snapdragon chipset series.
“We have an even better chip,” he said. “It's way faster. It's a leap ahead."
The chip will deliver 75 percent better performance than its predecessors, with better power efficiency, the ability to render video and games at high speeds and stream high-definition video.
“This little chip will make a big impact," Jacobs said. "It's the first super premium processor for smartphones, tablets and computers. It's setting the standard for excellence in mobile computing.”
The Snapdragon 800-powered smartphones and tablets will be in consumers' hands in the second half of 2013.
He demonstrated what the chip can do via a video of a medieval cobblestone village, with banners surrounding a pool of water.
“This is rendered in real time on the screen. The banners move when I tap them, and you can see the reflections in the water below,” he said.
Jacobs explained the science behind the lifelike scene. The realistic motion is handled by the central processing unit, the reflection is enhanced by a graphics processing unit and the audio is enabled by a digital signal processor.
“It's where this integrated systems approach pays off,” he said.
The Snapdragon 800 enables a richer and more complex scene, answering the demands of gamers that use mobile devices.
“Gamers can play more and recharge less,” he said.
In addition to graphics and gaming, the chip sets the new standard for video quality, known as “ultra HD.”
“It's four times better than HDTV you have in your house now. Take that extraordinary functionality, combine that with ability to access entire film collections in the cloud, anytime, anywhere, and you have an awesome entertainment experience," Jacobs said.
To show off the video quality from Hollywood's perspective, Jacobs invited another surprise guest onstage: director and writer Guillermo del Toro.
The keynote took on a Comic-Con vibe, with a sneak preview shown for del Toro's new action flick “Pacific Rim.” The movie comes out July 12 and centers around 250-foot-tall robots.
“It's about how we surmount all odds no matter what our size is in the fight,” said del Toro, whose credits include “Hellboy” and “Pan's Labyrinth.”
The duo aired a clip on a Snapdragon 800-based tablet that depicts the moving metal monsters.
The keynote plugged another upcoming blockbuster: "Star Trek Into Darkness."
Qualcomm worked with Paramount to create an app to market the film. It uses geolocation and image recognition capabilities to connect users to movie posters and billboards, similar to a scavenger hunt.
Alice Eve, who plays a sexy Ph.D. in the upcoming movie, sauntered onstage to walk through the app.
“You can accomplish missions by finding specific locations,” Eve said.
Jacobs' job isn't always glamorous and about brushing shoulders with movie stars, however. He addressed several hurdles the mobile industry faces today.
Data demand could go as high as 1,000 times what it is today, he said.
“That is our 1000x challenge. It is a huge challenge,” he said.
To keep up with the exploding demand, Qualcomm is working on technology to help network operators handle the massive amounts of data and drive costs down. Qualcomm's proposed solution of small cells act like WiFi access points that provide cellular connectivity.
“The goal is to bring the network closer to the user. You can have a tiny cellphone tower on your bookshelf … that ensures the best network connection of all time,” he said.
Qualcomm's ability to serve all ages with its technology was demonstrated with a visit from a beloved "Sesame Street" character.
Big Bird stomped onto stage to demonstrate Qualcomm Vuforia's technology that uses text recognition to help kids find the word “milk” on a carton, for example.
“That is a terrific example of how mobile is transforming education,” said Jacobs.
This spring, Qualcomm will be making text recognition available to developers, with a wide range of applications.
Jacobs rounded out the hour-and-a-half-long presentation with mentions about advances in car technology.
NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski raced onstage to describe a new game-changing app that alters the way people experience the race from home.
A new multiscreen experience lets fans customize the way they can view a race. When users launch the app on a Snapdragon-enabled TV, they can see the leaderboard, a picture of the race leader on the right side of the screen and watch in-car video. Some of those smart TVs are on display this week at CES.
“From my perspective, this is the best seat in the house," said Keselowski. "This is the future of our sport and of TV. It's my race, your way."
The grand finale included a Rolls Royce that rolled onto the stage, powered by Qualcomm's new electric vehicle technology. Qualcomm Halo allows electric vehicles to automatically charge when positioned over pads in a garage or an activated parking space.
“No cables to hook up and you don't worry about aligning the car exactly,” Jacobs said, whose company is working on commercializing the technology.
The Rolls Royce got an electric motor and embarked on a world tour, making pit stops in Tokyo, Beijing, Paris and Singapore, all while electrically charging along the way.
For a three-month stretch, the car exclusively used the Halo system.
“Even the sound system is awesome,” Jacobs said. “It sounds like you are almost at a concert. In this case you are.”
That was his way to announce the hit band Maroon 5, who took the stage and performed three acoustic songs.
“I saw a couple of people having fun, which was nice," said lead singer Adam Levine, addressing a sea of seated tech geeks seated in the cavernous conference hall.
Jacobs watched, leaning against the Rolls Royce and happily reflecting on his own rock-star performance for his tech fans around the world. He did have one piece of advice for the band after they sang their last song, called "Pay Phone": He would have called it "Cellphone."