This year's International Consumer Electronics Show was supposed to be the first in over decade not to be anchored by a Microsoft keynote. But, despite the software giant's announcement in 2011 that it was calling it quits,
it seems the company wasn't quite ready to walk away yet.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a surprise appearance during the Qualcomm keynote address Monday evening in Las Vegas -- a slot that would have likely been occupied by Microsoft had it not declared 2012 it's last CES -- to talk mobility with Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs.
"Thank you to Paul for the chance to be here today," Ballmer said on stage. "But, most importantly, I want to thank you for the opportunity to partner with Qualcomm."
Ballmer and Jacobs showcased a number of new Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 devices powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon mobile processors, including Samsung's ATIV tablet, Dell's XPS 12 convertible PC, Nokia's Lumia 920 smartphone, and HTC's Windows Phone 8X smartphone.
Ballmer's brief cameo was followed by Qualcomm unveiling its next-generation mobile processors, the Snapdragon 600 and 800 series. The higher-end 800 series was particularly touted by Jacobs as being "the most advanced wireless processor ever built."
"This little chip is going to make a big impact," Jacobs told the crowd.
The new Snapdragon 800 series delivers up to 75 percent better performance than the prior-generation Snapdragon S4 Pro chips, and delivers what Qualcomm claims to be "exceptionally low power" thanks to its new 28nm High Performance for mobile (HPm) technology. Jacobs said the new chips already have 50 device design wins in the pipeline.
The Snapdragon 800 series also supports Ultra HD displays -- a major theme at this year's CES -- which means it is expected to usher in a new breed of tablets and smartphones with screen resolutions that are four times higher than the HD displays on the market today.
In 2012, Qualcomm was proclaimed by analyst firm IHS iSuppli as the fastest-growing chip maker in the world, after sales for its ARM-based mobile processors saw double-digit growth. According to the firm, Qualcomm's revenue in 2012 grew 27.2 percent year-over-year tor a whopping $13 billion.
Qualcomm's growth represented a bright spot in an otherwise stagnant semiconductor market, which saw its worldwide annual revenue drop 2.3 percent.
Qualcomm's success no doubt stems from its growing footprint in the smartphone and tablet markets. Today, Jacobs said Qualcomm processors are found in more than 500 mobile devices, with more than 400 coming down the pike.
"Of course Qualcomm is not a traditional consumer electronics company. Obviously, we don't make TVs or stereos or gaming consoles," Jacobs said. "But we are at the heart of connected devices and a growing number of consumer electronics products that are at the center of what you do."
PUBLISHED JAN. 7, 2013