Enlarge /. A Qualcomm watch.
After years of repackaging the same basic smartwatch chip, Qualcomm Wear OS has equipped it with a modern smartwatch SoC. Get to know the Snapdragon Wear 4100, a Qualcomm smartwatch chip that is faster than the previous chip for the first time.
The Wear 4100 uses four 1.7 GHz Cortex-A53 CPUs based on a 12 nm manufacturing process. This is a significant improvement over the 28nm Cortex-A7 CPUs that have been found on any other Qualcomm smartwatch chip. It's not the state-of-the-art 7nm process Qualcomm's high-end chip uses, and the Cortex A53 is an old CPU design, but it's a big upgrade for Qualcomm. Between the new CPU, the Adreno 504 GPU and the faster memory, Qualcomm promises "85% faster performance" compared to the Wear 3100.
There are actually two versions of the 4100, the vanilla "4100" and the "4100+". The Plus version is specially designed for smartwatches with a permanently switched on dial and, like previous Wear SoCs, has a particularly energy-saving SoC (based on a Cortex-M0) to keep the time up to date and to log sensor data (such as step counts) ). Qualcomm promises better picture quality in this power saving mode with more colors and a smoother display.
Enlarge /. A block diagram of the Wear 4100+.
There are now two DSPs, which Qualcomm says are "optimal workload partitioning, support for dynamic clock and voltage scaling, Qualcomm Sensor Assisted Positioning PDR Wearables 2.0, support for location tracking with low power consumption and an improved Bluetooth 5.0 architecture" . There are also two ISPs with support for 16MP sensors (on a smartwatch?). As usual, there are numerous connectivity options with built-in LTE, GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 5.
Can Wear OS be revived? (No probably not)
Qualcomm has been neglecting the smartwatch market for years, and while Wear OS has many of its own problems, the sad state of Android smartwatches today is primarily Qualcomm's fault.
It's not that Qualcomm didn't release any smartwatch chips at all – the company has only invested as few resources as possible by selling the same basic chip for just six years. In 2014, the first Wear OS smartwatches (then called Android Wear) came out with a Snapdragon 400 SoC that used four Cortex A7 CPUs and was based on a 28 nm process. In 2016 Qualcomm launched the "Snapdragon Wear 2100", which, however, did not differ significantly from the previous chip and used four Cortex A7 CPUs and a 28 nm process. In 2018, Qualcomm recycled the same basic design again and launched the "Snapdragon Wear 3100" with four Cortex A7 CPUs and a 28nm manufacturing process. Qualcomm may point out tiny additional features that are available in each version, but the basics like CPU speed and power consumption haven't improved in six years.
Is there anything left of Wear OS after six years of downtime? The lack of functional hardware has destroyed the ecosystem. Many hardware manufacturers – such as Samsung, Huawei and Asus – have moved away from the platform. Wear OS's market share is in or in the single digits and is so low that it is no longer shown separately in market share reports. Without hardware sales, developers cannot justify building apps.
As for Google, the company appears to have slowed the development of Wear OS. In the early years of his life, (Android) Wear OS closely followed the main version of Android, but an Android 10 update never arrived. The last major update was in 2018 on Android 9 (which Wear OS calls system version "H"). Google recently made several acquisitions to support Wear OS, the results of which we have not seen yet. In early 2019, the company acquired an unknown technology and research and development team from Fossil Group, the largest Wear OS OEM, for $ 40 million. In late 2019, Google bought Fitbit, a pioneer in fitness tracking devices, for $ 2.1 billion. Fitbit was not involved in Wear OS, but Google called the purchase "an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS and bring Made by Google portable devices to the market." The deal – Google's fifth largest ever – is still winding through regulatory approval.
It is not clear that there is still an ecosystem to buy Qualcomm's new chip. The company typically only advertises the manufacturers it hired for these chip launches, but was unable to quote or verify a single major OEM in its press release. The starting partner for the Wear 4100 is a company called "imoo", the self-described "leading brand for children's smartwatches". The company announces that the next generation of the "Z6 Ultra Smartwatch" will launch the new Qualcomm chip in the next 30 days.