By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (StartName) – Qualcomm Inc executives showed off robots made with smartphone technology at an annual developer conference on Thursday, but they steered clear of talking about China, a key growth market where the chipmaker is entangled in an antitrust investigation.
With an explosion in smartphones in recent years tapering off, Qualcomm and handset manufacturers are eager to show consumers and investors that they have more innovation in store to drive demand for new devices.
The company discussed progress in 4G LTE and technology and 3D cameras, but demonstrations of robots made with Qualcomm smartphone technology stole much of the show.
Chief Executive Steve Mollenkopf demonstrated a three-wheeled robot that picked up and sorted a number of small toys such as stuffed animals and building blocks, based on their shapes.
In another demonstration, engineers quickly trained a one-foot tall robot decked out with wheels, glowing ears and camera sensors to come and go based on simple hand gestures.
“The concept that a processor can enable a product to learn a behavior and change behavior based on learning is powerful,” said Qualcomm Senior Vice President Raj Talluri. “Now imagine your phone … You buy a phone and it learns your behavior and in time the phone starts getting better and better and more and more personal.”
Global smartphone shipments will increase 19 percent this year, less than last year’s 39 percent growth and driven by the adoption in developing countries of handsets selling for under $150, according to Juniper Research.
With demand for smartphones cooling in the United States, Qualcomm sees consumers in China as key to its future, but the world’s leading mobile chipmaker faces a nearly year-old antitrust investigation there.
That investigation, which could lead to a fine of over $1 billion, and recent troubles collecting royalties from local manufacturers have some on Wall Street concerned about Qualcomm’s ability to cash in on the fast-growing Chinese smartphone market.
Qualcomm normally sticks to future products and upcoming technology at forums aimed at developers, but the investigation is a major concern on Wall Street. Senior executives held a lunch with financial analysts at the event, but Mollenkopf did not attend.
“The big elephant in the room is China,” said Bernstein analyst Stacy Rasgon. “Who cares about anything else right now?”
A Qualcomm spokeswoman at the event declined to discuss the investigation in China, where Qualcomm also faces growing competition from smaller rivals such as MediaTek and other small manufacturing low-cost processors.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich. Editing by Andre Grenon)