SAN FRANCISCO — Get those wrists ready. A new breed of smartwatch, with better performance and longer battery life, is on the way, courtesy of Qualcomm.
At a press event here Monday, the chipmaker unveiled the latest update to its wearables chip: the 3100 platform. It’s a long time coming. Most Wear OS smartwatches today run the 2100, a two-year-old chip that’s had some challenges tackling a burgeoning array of use cases, such as a heavier reliance on voice technology, more quantified fitness features, more smart home control and compatibility with future 5G cellular networks.
It’s also under pressure to meet the standards of fashion and luxury companies.
The 3100 chip set — yes, there are multiple processors — was designed to fuel better performance and more battery life, said Pankaj Kedia, senior director and business lead of Qualcomm’s smart wearables platform. More impressive is that the increase in longevity comes alongside improved passive or ambient modes displaying colors, motion and select data from low-power features running in the background, all without making the device unnecessarily bulky.
To develop the new system, Qualcomm worked with sports companies as well as fashion brands.
“We went bonkers on fashion and luxury,” Kedia said. “Every name in fashion and luxury are first-time customers for Qualcomm. But we’re just getting started.”
Fashion is a particular focus for the tech-maker. Indeed, Kedia mentioned fashion at least a half dozen times or more while onstage. “We are making the smartwatch, first and foremost, a fashion watch — first and foremost, a watch,” he said. “So my friends in the luxury space, the fashion space, love that. [They] want that.”
Today’s high-tech wrist gizmos typically run for about 1.5 days to a couple of days. But through crafty power management, which can tell whether or not the owner is actively interacting with the device, the 3100 can shuttle functions off to its main processor or its low-power co-processor. That means smartwatches outfitted with the latest Qualcomm wearables processor can last all week, the company said. And it wants to push that even further with the next update, which aims to take longevity from the week into the weekend, without compromising the watch’s size.
Some of those fashion brands — Fossil, Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc — constitute the first set of early 3100 partners.
“We took the feedback from these fashion brands to enable the next generation of these smartwatches,” Ignacio Contreras, Qualcomm’s director of marketing for auto, Internet of Things and wearables, told WWD. “Their feedback was that they wanted an ambient mode that has color and movement. So the low-power co-processor allows for this richer ambient mode, without taking such a battery hit.”
With Mont Blanc, the presentation got a little more specific. Kedia tipped that a new Summit smartwatch, powered by the new 3100 chip set, will be coming to the market. He didn’t say when the luxury brand would launch the Summit 2, but by virtue of his pulling out the device on stage, it would appear to be soon.
When it arrives, it will offer better power consumption and ambient modes, plus other features like better sound and new Near Field Communication components, for mobile payments from the wrist.
Qualcomm is also looking beyond those arms, seeing where its hardware can factor in apart from mere smartwatches.
“For fashion, think wearable clothing as well — like shoes, counting your steps,” Contreras said. “It’s hard to convey the potential. But talking to fashion brands, they might know well the expectations. And provide the means to get there.”