Qualcomm's secret mobile weapon: Augmented Reality
The mobile industry will soon undergo a massive consolidation of the smartphone/tablet space. We simply have too many vendors and Intel's focused entry later this year should force the ARM vendors to merge, some to fail, and only the strongest will survive.
Currently, the strongest contender is Qualcomm. While the company boasts a number of advantages in terms of processor performance, wireless capability, and massive market presence - Qualcomm's strongest qualification may be its leadership in augmented reality.
A few days ago the company concluded its contest for augmented reality apps and Pixel Punch won with their AI product Paparazzi.
Augmented Reality is quickly taking the lead as the likely space in which the next "killer" application will be born.
For those who don't know what augmented reality is, the concept originates from blending artificial reality with the real world.
One of the first compelling demonstrations of this was a demo that HP released a few years ago called Roku's Reward. In the game, the player explores the streets of his city and what he sees through the screen of his tablet.
Remember, Roku's was coded long before Apple's iPad was a reality. The title depicts a magical world and includes a fetching princess who lip locks the geek playing the game.
While many of us imagined scenarios where, in the real world, kids playing the game might end up under very real cars, the concept was compelling and reminded me a lot of playing imaginary games outside when I was a child.
For those that remembered Star Trek Next Generation this was clearly going to be the big step towards the Holodeck or simulated reality.
However, Roku is clearly an interim step towards that goal, as HP's grand vision of augmented reality has yet to make it to the actual market.
Qualcomm's Augmented Reality Vision
Qualcomm's vision is to use the Smartphone/Tablet as a magic window into the unseen. Yes, this could mean imaginary things like Roku's Reward or the Pixel Punch game that won Qualcomm's contest, but even more compelling is the critical utility that could potentially be provided.
For example, imagine leveraging your smartphone to walk through a car repair course - using your actual vehicle as an example.
An image of your engine, for instance, could be augmented to showcase what you need to remove/replace and the order you need to do it.
And how about doing a plumbing or an electrical job? Rather than reading complex instructions which could be easily misinterpreted, the device could, step by step, show you how to fix, upgrade, or replace components in real-time.
Ikea could likely save a fortune on instructions and returns by leveraging this technology to accurately guide the home assembly from any point.
Now, imagine a firefighter who needs to find a water source, gas or electrical cut off - STAT. Assuming the plans are available, an augmented reality enabled smartphone or tablet could be used as an "X-Ray vision device" to help the firefighter navigate and eliminate the threat in a timely manner.
Similarly, an EMT could, when arriving at an accident, use his or her device to scan a victim for pre-existing problems that could increase risks.
In addition, augmented reality devices could also help walk a medic through the best techniques for saving a life or addressing injuries, all while factoring in allergies and other potential complications pulled from connected databases.
Finally, shoppers scanning for products would see those with the best prices jump out, highlighted by a suggestion that they buy someplace else or on-line to save money.
Products with safety issues could show up as red, while those boasting high Consumer Reports ratings would have flashing stars over them. For a shopper, this really could be the next "killer application."
Wrapping Up: The Next Killer Application
As with all new technology, it will likely take time before the market embraces what is possible and cost effective.
But the idea of blending virtual information with real images is amazing to me, as the benefits range from unique entertainment to saving lives.
Imagine, for instance, after an earthquake being able to scan for cellars or basements with cell phones to search for likely areas where victims might be trapped.
The opportunities to do amazing things - which we quite literally couldn't live without - are unparalleled with augmented reality.
This is Qualcomm's secret weapon, and it may assure the company thrives, rather than simply survives the coming conflict.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently, he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.