Speed isn’t everything: Convenient new features coming to your next smartphone


At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, we witnessed a ton of new mobile technologies that aren’t in phones yet, but that will the phone you currently have look and feel a decade old when they arrive later this year.

To me, some of the most impressive innovations came from Qualcomm. Though it may not be a household name outside tech enthusiasts, Qualcomm is the dominant technology player in the cell phone space. It got there not by having the fastest processor or best graphics (the battleground for PCs), but by having the best radios – performance on a phone really doesn’t matter if you can’t connect.

But at Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm announced a number of technologies that had nothing to do with connectivity or speed that I think help it stand apart from the pack.

Snapdragon Voice Activation

In many US states, you’re required to use hands-free technology to make calls behind the wheel in order to comply with local laws. But to do that, you need good voice-command functionality. If your phone has gone into low-power mode, or your phone, headset, or car sucks at voice commands, it doesn’t work that well.

In the end though, because I value safety behind the wheel… it was the voice activation and charging announcements that caught my interest.

At MWC 2013, Qualcomm announced a standardized voice-command component called Snapdragon Voice Activation. It can wake up the phone, connect it to the manufacturer’s voice natural user interface, and keep you from having to pull the phone out while driving to figure out how to get the voice prompts to work properly. Unlike some competing systems, you don’t have to press a button to prepare the phone for voice commands, just saying “Hey Snapdragon” will work.

Having at least some standards should allow the next generation of phones to work more reliably without having to use your hands, and more effectively keep you from ending up in the trunk of the car in front of you.

Snapdragon Quick Charge

This was perhaps my favorite feature of the show, because I often forget to charge my phone and end up driving to a meeting with an ominous “your phone power is critically low” warning on my screen. I can charge my phone in the car, but 30 minutes to an hour on a charger just delays the inevitable shut-down surprise that will come a few hours later in the day.

The first version of Quick Charge increases the charging speed by 40 percent. So if it typically takes a full four hours to charge your phone, with this new technology it will take two hours and change.


However, the second version of this may be worth waiting for: It reduces charging time by 75 percent. This means if it currently takes four hours to charge your phone, the new phone will only take an hour. That’s exactly what I need. (I often have to drive into San Francisco, which takes a bit over an hour. I could always arrive with a full phone regardless of whether I’d charged it first.)

This second version will go into Snapdragon-based tablets and notebooks. Since some ARM notebooks and tablets typically have 10 hours of battery life to begin with, a one-hour charge time would be a godsend.

Other stuff

On top of these two announcements, Qualcomm showcased its new Snapdragon line: The entry-level 200 for value smartphones, the 400 for the mid-range, the 600 for the high end and tablets, and the 2.3GHz 800 for folks chasing performance.

In the end though, because I value safety behind the wheel and always seem to be walking around with a phone on life support, it was the voice activation and charging announcements that caught my interest. And these were just the innovations from Qualcomm. This year Mobile World Congress had a ton of other interesting things going on as well. We’ll look at some of that next week unless something even bigger happens.

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