Qualcomm works on a Blueprint for Mobile Education to Offset Shrinking Smartphone Sales

Chipmaker Qualcomm announced the acquisition of mobile learning platform EmpoweredU for an undisclosed sum. Founded in 2011, EmpoweredU pivoted and changed names several times before settling on its current model, a mobile centered learning platform based upon the Canvas LMS. The EmpoweredU team will be integrated in Qualcomm’s other mobile focused education initiatives.

The company also announced that it has invested in Wowo, a mobile edtech startup through its new $150 million strategic fund for China which focuses on Internet, e-commerce, semiconductor, education and health. Wowo is targeting the pre-school English market.

At first glance these announcements seem to be a bit out of focus. Why does a hardware company want to be in the edtech space?

Cheerleading Mobile Education

Phil Hill from e-Literate interviewed Vicki Mealer from Qualcomm Labs and EmpoweredU CEO Steve Poizner to answer this question. In the talk Mealer pointed out that Qualcomm has had a philanthropic interest in education for years, donating over $240 million to various institutions.

The company sees itself as a behind-the-scenes cheerleader with the aim of accelerating adoption of mobile in education through device agnostic products like EmpowerdU or Wowo.

Offsetting Slowing Smartphone Sales

In an article on The National, the reason behind Qualcomm’s growing interest in mobile education is the possibility to offset slowing smartphone sales by promoting the use of mobile devices in education. The company chose the Middle East and North African regions as testing grounds.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) the smartphone market will grow by only 19% in 2014, compared to 39% in 2013. Qualcomm has developed a strong footprint in the Mena region, especially in Dubai and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Many among those governments are heavily investing in the development of mobile centric projects such as smart cities, mobile government, health and education solutions.

A Blueprint for Mobile Education

Through delivering a blueprint on how to best implement mobile devices in these different sectors, Qualcomm aims to initiate the need for new, dedicated devices and gadgets that will be powered by Qualcomm chipsets.

Of course, there are big differences in the economic levels in the region. Whereas most students in the GCC and Dubai already own tablet devices and mobile phones, students in countries like Egypt will have to rely on government provided devices similar to the Aakash tablets that are available in India at subsidized rates.

As Qualcomm’s chipsets can be found in a variety of different products from different manufacturers, a growing demand for mobile devices will eventually lead to more revenue. Qualcomm also owns a variety of patents for 3G and 4G technology which is another revenue stream that profits from a broader adoption of mobile devices.

“The technology will be the same, our job is to line up the channels and create the right relationships in the market and provide the blueprint. We can’t do this overnight, but it will make us a lot of revenue.”

stated Ziad Matar, senior director of business development at Qualcomm in an interview with The National.

Further Reading

  • Qualcomm Further Enhances Commitment to 24/7 Mobile Learning with Acquisition of Silicon Valley-Based Learning Technology Company EmpoweredU | Press Release
  • Qualcomm Commits Up To $150 Million to Strategic Venture Fund in China | Press Release
  • Mobile-first learning platform EmpoweredU acquired by Qualcomm | e-Literate
  • Chipset maker Qualcomm trains its sights on Mena mobile education | The National

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com.