Qualcomm's Uplinq 2013: Inside the developer relations strategy

She may work for one of the biggest chipmaking suppliers to the tech hardware industry, but to a certain extent, Lauren Thorpe's heart may always be in software.

Qualcomm's Thorpe

Before she took on her role as senior director of developer relations at San Diego-based Qualcomm, Thorpe spent her career in stints at Helio, Hands-On Mobile and THQ Wireless. That means she learned first-hand about the kind of opportunities and challenges facing developers attending Qualcomm's Uplinq conference, which takes place Sept. 3-5 near its headquarters in San Diego.

If she were still a developer today, Thorpe said her agenda at Uplinq would be clear.

"First and foremost I'd want to hear the vision," she told FierceDeveloper. "How much have they invested in research and development? What can I expect to see and how will it impact my product? The more sensors there are and as my smartphone becomes more context-aware, what can I do with that as a developer? Maybe the biggest one is, how will I make money in the mobile space?"

Qualcomm is trying to answer these questions not only at Uplinq, but also as part of a more ongoing strategy that began last year with significant outreach to the app developer community amid the launch of the company's Snapdragon SDK. The Android-based toolset offers features for managing advanced facial recognition APIs, location support for low-battery geofencing and indoor location positioning, among other things.

Thorpe said Qualcomm's developer relations tactics, which have been compared to Intel's "Inside" campaign for PC vendors, has been the result of a "long internal battle" that continues to evolve.

"We've always done a great job of listening to our customers in terms of the OEMs, and bringing ideas to them, but from an innovation perspective, a lot of this happens in the software space and the application development process. A lot of the innovation comes from app developers," she said. "We've been trying to help folks (at Qualcomm) understand the work they're doing can be better exposed to the developer community."

Thorpe wouldn't pre-announce anything that's happening at Uplinq this week, except to say that the Snapdragon SDK had been "completely rearchitected." She also said the company will put an emphasis on "heterogeneous computing" focusing on seamless integration of hardware components which will allow developers to create apps that don't drain smartphone batteries or otherwise impair performance.

Tango, an app developer based in Mountain View, Calif., has leveraged Snapdragon in its Tango Surprises video messaging app. For example, the app works in such a way that it can add sound effects to smiles, winks or the closing of a user's eyes during a video call.

"If you look around in the market, almost no one else can do video filtering in a video call, because video calling itself is already CPU heavy," said Xu Liu, Tango's lead engineer. "By moving the burden to GPU we can achieve 15 fps performance on Qualcomm hardware."

YUZA, a London-based developer whose SNAPCAM Pro also uses the Snapdragon SDK, will be on site at Uplinq. Co-founder and CEO Richard Skaife says he's looking forward to it.

"One of the things that makes them stand out is the diversity of the attendees," he said, ranging from the CEO of a top mobile network operator to an indie developer building their first app. Skaife also praised Qualcomm for offering "a truly cross-platform event."

Indeed, Uplinq attendees will notice a marked diversity in sessions on platforms beyond simply Android and iOS, with representatives from both BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) hosting several sessions. Thorpe said that while Qualcomm does work with Android for Snapdragon and iOS for its AllJoyn product, the company deliberately works to encourage support of multiple providers.

"With everything that's happening on it already, getting ahead on iOS is challenging," Thorpe pointed out. "As much as (developers) hate fragmentation, having more than just one provider is helpful. Competition is healthy for us."

Because it sits between the handset majors and the carriers, Thorpe said Qualcomm has a unique role to foster communication among developers, though the relationship-building is not without its challenges.

"We're still a little more unknown than where I'd like to see us," she admitted. "When you don't own that distribution channel (like an app store), it's hard to see, 'Why should I be talking to Qualcomm?' We would definitely like to get more visibility and grow our community. But it's about offering value, not just noise. We want to work closely with these high-level OS vendors and have that ability to take the technology advances, understand how they're being driven through the operating systems, and show developers how they can take advantage of that."

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