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Qualcomm chips rule Windows Mobile roost

The chip supplier is playing a big role in powering the first crop of phones based on Microsoft's new operating system.

Consumers won't see a "Qualcomm Inside" sticker on new Windows Mobile phones, but the chip supplier is playing a big role in powering the first crop of phones based on Microsoft's new operating system.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday the first phones to carry the Windows Phone brand and run the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system--which offers Adobe Flash support, an upgraded browser, and menus that can be navigated with a finger. AT&T has already announced smartphones, with dozens more expected to be rolled out by the end of the year.

HTC HD2 packs a 1GHZ Qualcomm processor
HTC HD2 packs a 1GHZ Qualcomm processor

The Tilt 2 and Pure both use Qualcomm MSM7000 series processors, as do a number of other new Windows Mobile phones. These chips typically run at 528GHz--a fairly common speed grade for mobile phones.

Toshiba TG01
Toshiba TG01

But it's at the high end where things get interesting. The Apple iPhone-like HTC HD2 and Acer neoTouch use Qualcomm's latest-and-greatest processor, the 1GHz Snapdragon, also known as the QSD8250.

The HTC HD2, for example, packs 512 MB of ROM memory, 448 MB of RAM, claims video playback battery life of up to 8 hours, and a uses a relatively large 4.3-inch diagonal screen (specifications here.)

And Toshiba has been shipping a Windows phone since June that also uses the Snapdragon processor. Only 9.9 millimeters thick, it integrates a 4.1-inch WVGA 800x480 384k pixel resistive touchscreen and comes with support for 3G HSPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, and assisted-GPS.

Snapdragon itself supports high-definition (720p) video decode and cameras ranging up to 12 megapixels.

Qualcomm won't stop at 1GHz: the San Diego-based company has demonstrated Netbooks running a 1.3GHz Snapdragon processor and will eventually push the chip to 1.5GHz. Future Qualcomm chips will be dual-core and support 1080p (laptop-class) high-definition video.

But there is still plenty of chip competition in the smartphone market. Though Qualcomm's presence is unmistakable in this first crop of Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, it competes with Texas Instruments in the broader cell phone and smartphone markets. "Qualcomm is a newcomer on the block in terms of applications processors," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist at market researcher In-Stat, adding that TI's OMAP processor is the most widely-used processor.

A standalone applications processor is roughly analogous to the main Intel or Advanced Micro Devices processor in a PC: it is basically the brains of a smartphone.