Qualcomm gets back to business with Snapdragon event – sort of

HAWAII – Qualcomm is excited to have people back in person to show off all the compute, gaming, camera and other tech that goes into its Snapdragon portfolio.

Hosting its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit on the Big Island, the San Diego-based wireless pioneer had to get creative in how it brings tech press and analysts together – for the first time, really, since Qualcomm’s last big tech summit was held in Maui in 2019.

Whereas last year’s event was 100% virtual, this year it’s a hybrid event, complete with live keynotes on stage in Hawaii, streaming video services around the world, and an event held concurrently in China so that everyone gets to see and hear the announcements at the same time. In fact, this year’s keynotes were moved to the afternoon Hawaii-time in order to accommodate an audience zooming in, so to speak, from China when it’s morning there.

The only big losers in all of this? Those stationed in Europe, who will be (hopefully for their sake) sleeping during all of this.

“It’s been an interesting time obviously for anyone here to plan an event or anything physical, so we like to say we have Plan A through D” to accommodate the different scenarios and because, “you just don’t know,” said Mike Roberts, vice president, global product marketing at Qualcomm, on the sidelines of the Snapdragon Tech Summit on Monday.

Qualcomm sponsored travel and accommodations for about 140 press, analysts and “influencers,” mostly from North America and Europe, for three days, with the week’s big announcements reserved for the keynotes on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Spoiler alert: Expect more on the new single-branding initiative that Qualcomm teased last week.)

While it sounds exotic – and yes, it’s warm and beautiful, let’s not skirt around the obvious – it’s not as expensive as it may seem to fly people into Kona at this time of year. It happens to be geographically convenient, between the U.S. and China, which are two important markets for Qualcomm. It just so happens to be the time of year when the technology is mature enough to show demos but not so far along that it’s all commercialized and the OEMs let all their secrets out. In other words, there’s a certain amount of confidentiality going on, which tends to be easier to pull off in person to some extent.  

“We landed on this timeframe, and it stuck,” Roberts said, referring to how it’s scheduled around the first week of December for the past five years. The very first tech summit was held in New York, but they quickly realized they needed something that would accommodate a large contingent from around the world, and the far-most western United States fit the bill.

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To be sure, hosting an event that’s both physically in person and shown virtually is a challenge – and they didn’t know what they were getting into for this year’s event until the late summer or early fall timeframe. It’s OK to do an event that’s fully optimized for virtual or fully optimized for physical, but to do both is a bit of a stretch, especially when the goal is to impress with something bigger and better than the prior year.

Preparations started months ago, when carriers like Verizon had to supply the fiber backhaul for the millimeter wave gear they want to use to show off their crazy-fast 5G speeds. This event is a full-on production, with big stage screens assembled by hand when they arrive, and all the PowerPoints and videos well vetted and speeches practiced and primed.

It’s unclear how many Qualcomm employees are actually in attendance, but there’s a full contingent from not only San Diego but other Qualcomm offices around the world. It’s important to have an event like this where the press and analysts gets a bird’s eye view and the attention of the executives squarely on the task at hand. If it were held in Qualcomm’s home town of San Diego, for example, it would be too tempting for executives to spend their time in more routine meetings and not give 100%.

Even the president and CEO of Qualcomm, Cristiano Amon, is here for the duration of the event, with appointments scheduled morning, noon and night. Of course, at this late date, his schedule is booked up, but he’s “very accessible,” Roberts said. How much so? During a welcome reception held on the lawn on Monday night, Amon was mingling among the crowd, smartphone in hand, capturing the attention of attendees. If that’s any indication of how the event will unfold, Qualcomm will get the attention it’s striving for.