Qualcomm’s annual conference for its Brew operating system took a hiatus last year due to the economy, but it’s coming back this week under the rebranded moniker Uplinq. This year, the conference is undergoing a change of focus.
In addition to pitching the virtues of its feature phone app platform, Qualcomm is talking to developers about how Brew fits into a world increasingly crowded with smartphone applications. There will be representatives from Nokia’s MeeGo platform and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, keynote addresses from AT&T and Verizon Wireless, as well as what’s promised to be a frank discussion on the struggles of making money off apps in fragmented market.
Wireless Week talked with Mitch Oliver, vice president of ecosystem development at Qualcomm, about where the conference has been, where it’s headed and how it’s adapting to the rapidly shifting world of wireless. Below is an edited transcript of their discussion.
Wireless Week: This used to be the Brew conference. Why did Qualcomm change the name to Uplinq?
Mitch Oliver: The world of mobile applications has evolved since we started the conference in 2001; there are more consumer-driven app stores and bigger opportunities for developers. We changed the conference to focus a little bit beyond what we were doing with Brew to include some of our other initiatives, such as augmented reality and support for other operating systems like Android.
WW: Can you name some specific things that will set the 2010 conference apart from events in prior years?
Oliver: Flo TV is having a developer contest for apps to deliver through their broadcast channels and we’re going to be talking about augmented reality. We’re also holding reverse pitches to the developer community where operators will talk to developers about what they’re looking for. That’s a real change in the dynamic from when it was more that the developers would pitch their wares to the operators. Now, we have a different environment where developers have a number of different opportunities in mobile. Operators will be able to tell them why they’re still a good channel for bringing their technologies to market. We’ve always tried to look at the whole value chain and make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate.
WW: Qualcomm made the Brew platform free to carriers and developers in January and landed new commitments from AT&T and Sprint, not to mention HTC and Samsung. What’s the industry’s response been like since then?
Oliver: It’s been really nice. When we announced it as a stand-alone OS proposition to bring smartphones to the masses we’ve had a number of really good announcements. There are a number of people out there realizing there are a lot of consumers looking for smartphone capability but not at the price point. Brew gives lots of flexibility to OEMs and operators and can handle a range of requirements from feature phones to smartphones. Consumers are looking for the same type of applications and experiences you’ve seen on smartphones. We believe it’s a blurry line between feature phones and smartphones and Brew has always offered a very complete platform.
WW: What’s Qualcomm doing to differentiate Brew from high-powered competitors like Android?
Oliver: We’re doing a number of things. We’re focused on making it extensible so developers can extend the platform in a way that doesn’t fragment it. Fragmentation is bad for developers because they have to spend a lot of money porting between phones and operators. Providing a simple way of getting Brew across a range of devices and operators offers a better business case for why developers should put a lot of research and development into our platform. For this entire value chain to be successful, we have to let developers differentiate their solution while not fragmenting the platform.
WW: How has Qualcomm adapted Brew to handle the range of capabilities spanning basic handsets and more advanced feature phones?
Oliver: Brew was designed to handle performance issues. We have the pedigree to understand what it takes to build an operating system that performs well with limited power and limited memory. From a core performance perspective, we have multi-threading, multitasking, everything you’ll be expecting from the operating system.
We’re out there working with all the key, socially relevant developers and ensuring they’re bringing their apps to the Brew platform.
We’re going to talk about what we’re doing in emerging markets, AT&T and Verizon will be talking about their vision of what’s going on. What’s great about the Uplinq conference is that we don’t come there to run it like a Qualcomm infomercial. We bring partners from the value chain and they talk about what’s going on. We’re going to have an open dialogue about what’s working and what’s not working. We’ll be talking openly and honestly so that developers get a better feel as to what the market is like.
WW: Qualcomm has been pushing to get Brew into emerging markets like India and China. What are some of your current initiatives in that space?
Oliver: Those are very important markets for us. Our roots are in that mass market device space and that’s really important to those markets. They don’t have a consumer base that can afford high-end smartphones en mass. They want an economical solution but they also want compelling applications. When we look at those markets it’s not just about getting the operating system there. We have teams of people to find content relevant to that market. We’re out there working with developers to make sure consumers get applications that are important to them.