Author(s): George Jijiashvili
At an event in San Francisco on Monday, Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform for smartwatches. Its predecessor, the Snapdragon Wear 2100, was released early in 2016 and powers recent Wear OS smartwatches.
As Intel winds down its wearables business, Qualcomm now provides chipsets for 200 products in market and 80 percent of Wear OS smartwatches. Qualcomm has faced criticism for seemingly showing a lack of commitment to its wearables platform, particularly as it has made significantly faster progress with the evolution of smartphone chips. The company is hoping to quash these concerns with its latest announcement.
The Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform brings many updates over its predecessor and is based on a new ultralow-power system architecture. Qualcomm refers to it as a "big–small–tiny" architecture. This means the new platform retains the same proven "big" quad-core Arm Cortex A7 processor as the previous model, which uses a 28 nm process node, and adds highly efficient additional cores, a "small" digital signal processor and a "tiny" ultralow-power co-processor.
Qualcomm argues that for most smartwatch owners, the "big" processor is only used about 5 to 10 percent of the time, so retaining it makes little different to the overall performance. The real benefit that the platform delivers is that for the remaining 90 to 95 percent of typical usage of smartwatches, the highly optimised "small" and "tiny" co-processors kick in for tasks such as powering the ambient screen and listening for wake phrases like "Hey Google".
Qualcomm says its main goal for the chipset is to combine the "beauty of a fashion watch with the power of a smartwatch, the battery life of a sports watch with the richness of a smartwatch, and the utility of an analogue watch with the flexibility of a smartwatch". Based on our regular surveys of smartwatch owners, we believe these are certainly the correct areas for Qualcomm to focus on. As with the previous platform, the Snapdragon Wear 3100 will be available in connected (4G LTE) and tethered (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) versions.
In an encouraging sign of momentum, Fossil Group, Louis Vuitton and Montblanc were revealed as the first Snapdragon Wear 3100 customers, and more will be announced soon. Qualcomm also strongly hinted at a partnership with a big manufacturer of GPS sports watches.
New features of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform. More specifications can be found here.
Click on the image above for a larger version.
The launch event was supported by Google, which discussed the evolution of its Wear OS software platform. Google made an early commitment to the smartwatch category, but over the past three years Apple has come to rapidly dominate the market. At the start of 2018, we asserted our view that the poor sales performance of Wear OS smartwatches were caused by Google's lack of commitment to its platform (Wearables Insight: Google and Quality Aim to Re-Eenergise Wear OS).
However, since then Google appears to have doubled down on the platform, starting with a rebrand of Android Wear to Wear OS in March. At its developer conference in May, it revealed a set of upcoming changes to the operating system that aimed to offer a better user experience. And in early September it announced further enhancements to the platform (see IFA 2018: Wearables).
But the reality is that sales of Wear OS smartwatches remain disappointing, particularly compared with the hugely successful Apple Watch. This is despite the growing number of fashion brands embracing Google's smartwatch operating system, which include Fossil and its sub-brands, Guess, Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, Movado and TAG Heuer.
These announcements from Qualcomm and Google are unlikely to turn the fortunes of Wear OS smartwatches around in 2018, but they're still hugely important to the long-term health and growth of the platform.
We expect the Apple Watch to continue to dominate this device category in the near term — our projections show that in 2018, Apple will come close to matching worldwide sales of Swiss-made watches, which saw shipments of 24 million units in 2017. It's ominous that we're on the eve of what appears to be a major upgrade to the Apple Watch and there's little doubt it will be an instant hit.
Looking further ahead, we believe that fashion and watch brands that have adopted the Wear OS platform will welcome these announcements. However, time will tell if these developments can reignite consumer and developer interest in Wear OS smartwatches.