Unsung tech heroes

Unsung tech heroes

While smartphone makers like Samsung, Apple and Huawei tend to get all the glory when it comes to new releases, we don't hear nearly as much about the companies that make the tech under the hood. Yet these companies are often just as innovative and game-changing as the phones their products end up in, so it's about time mobile users became acquainted with them.


You probably use Qualcomm products all the time without knowing it – the navigation system in your car, the smartwatch on your wrist and, of course, the chips in your smartphone.

Qualcomm makes central processing units and system-on-chips – essentially the "brains" that do all the heavy lifting in your smartphone. Its most successful line is the Snapdragon suite, which includes multiple CPU cores, a wireless modem, graphics processing units and many other functions.

Based in San Diego, Qualcomm employs around 30,500 people. It played an important role in the development of the early mobile industry, investing heavily in the Globalstar satellite system and also becoming the world's leading patent holder for mobile 3G technologies.

According to Qualcomm itself, over 150 different smartphones on the market currently use Snapdragon chips, including the Samsung Galaxy series, LG G phones and smartwatches, and Motorola Droids.

Earlier this year, Strategy Analytics estimated that Qualcomm controlled a beefy 42% of the smartphone application processor market in 2015 – although this was down on the 52% share it enjoyed in 2014.


Far from Silicon Valley, ARM is an unassuming company based in Cambridge – that just happens to own the architecture underpinning the vast majority of modern smartphones, including the iPhone.

An expert in designing high-efficiency processors, ARM's technology means the chips that power your smartphone don't use up nearly as much juice as you'd think – so the batteries can be made smaller and lighter. In a market where size is often everything, ARM commands a lot of influence and respect from those in the know.

Oddly enough, ARM doesn't actually produce chips – it just builds designs that work extremely well, then licenses them. Nvidia and Intel, while fierce competitors in every other respect, both base their chips on ARM technology. Apple pays for ARM's mobile processor designs, then pays even more for the right to customise them for the iPhone.

This savvy, ghost-in-the-machine style of operation has paid dividends for ARM: an estimated 45 million ARM-based chips are shipped every day, and Japan's SoftBank paid £24 billion to acquire the company in 2016.


Ever since the iPhone was launched back in 2007, smartphones have had one standout feature that helped make them a success: the touchscreen. Today, most of us take touchscreens for granted, but this revolutionary technology doesn't happen by itself – and San Jose-based Atmel is one of the leading suppliers and designers of touchscreen controllers.

With just 5,000 employees, Atmel's MaXTouch range is found in a huge number of phones and devices, including the Samsung Galaxy series, the LG G-Slate tablet and a variety of Windows phones and netbooks. The company says it can pack its controller chips in a space measuring just 2.6 sq mm – and that's with features like active stylus support, low power modes and multi-finger selection.

It's not just mobile devices, either - the MaXTouch powers a wide range of automotive touchscreens too. The company was acquired by MicroChip Technology for $3.6 billion (£2.8 billion) in 2016.

So next time you're browsing for a new phone on Mobiles.co.uk, spare a thought for tech's unsing heroes - you might just find some of the companies above featured in your new device.