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It’s not just Apple, Qualcomm bets big on wearables and Internet of Everything

On the day when Apple Watch would be finally be revealed to the world in all its glory, one company that we should not forget is Qualcomm – the world’s largest chipset provider that powers

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On the day when Apple Watch would be finally be revealed to the world in all its glory, one company that we should not forget is Qualcomm – the world’s largest chipset provider that powers majority of smartphones and tablets. The San Diego-based technology giant has its eyes set on smart wearables and connected devices, popularly called as Internet of Everything. Leading the charge is Raj Talluri, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm. Talluri, who joined Qualcomm from Texas Instruments, also led Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset portfolio. I spoke to him about the fast evolving wearable and connected devices space and the kind of devices we can expect in the near future.

“I alternate between a smartwatch and a fitness band depending on what I’m doing. I have a Nest thermostat at home, a few connected speakers, a washing machine I can control with my phone…” Talluri tells me about his connected lifestyle.

With smartphone average selling prices coming down and greater competition – Samsung opted for its own Exynos chipset instead of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 in its latest Galaxy S6 flagship smartphone – the company is looking to have a first mover advantage in wearables and connected devices.

“The way we look at this is a very broad market for Qualcomm chipsets. Think wearables, watches, glasses, fitness bands and so on. That’s one broad area. The second one is the whole smart home automation space. There are a lot of opportunities in white goods with connectivity and processing. Even smart cities,” he explains.

The buzz around smartwatches has been around for over a year now, reaching its crescendo today with the impending launch of Apple Watch. However, the initial devices have failed to capture the imagination of consumers. Most of them used silicon from entry-level smartphones, often running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 200 and 400 series of chipsets. Talluri reckons that like any other market, the wearable space also started with existing solutions. But as the market grows, it evolves as well.

“The early ones were more tethered to a smartphone and were dependent on them. But if you look at the newer ones, these watches are coming with their own modem capabilities like 3G, LTE connectivity,” he says. At MWC earlier this month LG announced a smartwatch with integrated LTE connectivity based on Qualcomm’s solution.

But this is just the beginning. Next generation smartphones could provide a lot of new experiences considering they are always in physical contact with the user.

“There can be a lot of interesting sensors, since the wearable is always in touch with your skin. It can be a lot more personal,” Talluri suggests. The thought process is not very different from Apple CEO Tim Cook’s introduction to the Apple Watch – “This is the most personal device Apple has ever made.”

Talluri reckons a sensor in the smartwatch could be used for security to identify the user – it would work only when it is in touch with the user’s skin. Apple Watch reportedly has a similar feature where it goes into standby mode when it is not in contact with the user’s skin.

Qualcomm started with smartwatches when it announced Toq, a reference design for smartwatches that had an always on color Mirasol display. But Talluri clarifies that Qualcomm has no intention to sell its own smartwatches.

“Our goal there was really to show what was possible with wearables. We were not interested in making the end product ourselves and more to show what’s possible for our customers making it. We are happy providing the chipsets and software and that’s the role we really play,” he says.

Adding, “Now we are spending a lot of time on things like AllJoyn and AllSeen Alliance were what we are trying to do is to make it really easy for all these smart devices to talk to each other. We are also working on making these devices easier to use with open software, standards and so on.”

Apart from wearables, Qualcomm also sees a big opportunities in connected appliances. While we have been hearing about air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines that are connected to the Internet, Qualcomm is now pushing the technology that will make it easier for appliance manufacturers to make it happen.

At CES earlier this year, Samsung had dedicated its keynote to Internet of Things, pledging to invest $100 million in developers for an open ecosystem. The company claimed that 100 percent of its devices would be connected to the Internet by 2020.

“We are not exactly making reference designs like Toq but we are making a lot of reference designs like small Wi-Fi modules with complete software and hardware that someone can easily add connectivity into an air conditioner unit or a refrigerator,” Talluri explains.