Qualcomm to open 2013 CES in place of Microsoft

The maker of ARM-based processors for smartphones and tablets will give the opening-night speech at CES

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs will give the opening keynote at the giant Consumer Electronics Show in January, a logical choice for an event whose focus is increasingly mobile, but one that might not garner the attention of a Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer appearance.

This will be the first CES since 1999 that hasn't opened with a keynote from a Microsoft CEO. Ballmer has kicked off the event the past four years, and Gates was the opening speaker for nine consecutive years before that. Next year's show starts Jan. 8 in Las Vegas.

Microsoft announced last year that it would no longer attend, saying its big product announcements no longer lined up with the timing of the show. One analyst put it differently, saying CES is "no longer a PC show." Either way, it left the event's organizers, the Consumer Electronics Association, with a hole to fill.

Speculation turned to Sony, Samsung, or even a wireless operator such as Vodafone, but on Tuesday the CEA said it had picked Jacobs, whose company makes microprocessors and wireless chips used in smartphones and tablets, as well as in many other products including automobiles.

"Qualcomm has mobile computing in its DNA, and we look forward to hearing Dr. Jacobs explore the promise of a world of complete interconnectivity," the CEA said in a statement. His theme will be "born mobile."

It's a good choice that reflects Qualcomm's standing as one of the biggest suppliers of ARM-based processors, said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies. But Jacobs might not draw as much attention to CES as have his predecessors, he said.

"I have to admit, his name is not as widely recognized, and it might not be a draw by itself," Kay said.

That wouldn't be good for CES, which wants to draw as much attention to its show as possible. The speeches from Gates and Ballmer were always covered in minute detail by the press, in part because Microsoft was once so dominant in computing, and also because it aroused strong emotions in people, many of whom seemed to love or hate the company.

Qualcomm's speech will still be covered by the media, but perhaps not to the same degree, Kay suggested.

Asked if Jacobs might lack some of Ballmer's charisma, Kay said that's probably the wrong question to ask. "Ballmer had something, but I'm not sure it was exactly charisma," he said, adding after a pause: "He was loud."

Jacobs' speech is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Jan. 7 at The Venetian in Las Vegas. CES doesn't officially kick off until the next day, but the speech the night before is seen as the opening event. Other keynoters that week are top executives from Panasonic, Verizon and Samsung.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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