Qualcomm has revealed its new smartwatch platform, the Snapdragon Wear 3100, which will power the next wave of Wear OS devices.
Qualcomm's new tech has been more than two years in the making and is even more tailored for wearables than the last, with the primary improvement over the 2100 being power efficiency. Qualcomm’s stuck in a new power management system that should net you more time, claiming you'll get 4-12 hours more battery life than on smartwatches running the 2100 platform.
That's quite a wide margin, largely because there are more variables this time. Qualcomm told us that when you're interacting with the watch (an estimated 5% of the time it's on your wrist) it's using four A7 processors with a 28 nanometer process (the latter is the same featured on the 2100), while the rest of the time it's offloading to a new co-processor.
So the 3100 is a hybrid platform of old technology and new, with the added new co-processor helping eke out more power. Qualcomm says that the co-processor will reduce power consumption by 20 times compared to the main processor.
Qualcomm has also created three “personalized” modes tailored for different use cases. A Personalized Sports Experiences mode keeps GPS and heart rate tracking going for the duration of the workout and can, according to Qualcomm, deliver up to 15 hours of battery life. Meanwhile Traditional Watch Mode strips the features back to the basics, but will get you a week’s worth of battery in turn. That’s pretty good, but it remains to be seen just how basic that experience is.
There’s a third option too, called Enhanced Ambient Mode, designed for use on fashion watches. It supports up to 16 colors and “improved brightness” to keep your smartwatch always on, rather than endure the ignominy of having the screen turn off. Qualcomm's not quoting a number on that; by the sounds of it, battery life is going to vary more widely.
One of the reference designs for the 3100 platform
It's hard to tell how much better all of this will be, and how much users will have to sacrifice in order to get significantly longer battery life, until we try out the new tech.
Its use of the older 28nm process is still a bit concerning in 2018 when companies are working with 10nm process technology, but we're reserving judgement until we get our hands on these new devices. Right now, the 3100 certainly sounds like a welcome improvement, but not the leap we were expecting from an update more than two years in the making. All the focus has been put on power efficiency, rather than other performance gains.
New watches from Fossil, Montblanc and Louis Vuitton
The new 3100 chip comes in three flavors for manufacturers to choose from. One is designed for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tethered smartwatches, one for watches reliant on GPS, and another for 4G LTE devices.
Qualcomm is already working with a handful of manufacturers to get the 3100 chip on wrists including the Fossil Group, Montblanc and Louis Vuitton. Montblanc is the first to show off a 3100-powered smartwatch, the Montblanc Summit 2, which it’s pushing as a versatile, unisex smartwatch for adventurers and city slickers alike.
Fossil and Louis Vuitton aren’t announcing anything new but promised we’ll see new wearables from both. Fossil has flooded the market with its smartwatches, so that blessing obviously has more weight, but we're interested to see what Louis Vuitton might do on its next smartwatch, which it says is in the works. At a press conference, Qualcomm said it's also working with a "major sports brand" but wouldn't reveal who.
Qualcomm says the 3100 chip is shipping to partners today. Earlier this year, Pankaj Kedia, Qualcomm's senior director of wearables told us we can expect to see new smartwatches on shelves by the holiday season, so stand by for more information on that.
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