Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) just confirmed a new smartwatch CPU is coming this fall for Wear OS. Why is this important?
When it comes to smartwatches, the average person probably thinks of Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Apple Watch. But Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google is in the game too, with multiple companies making smartwatches running its Wear OS. A key technical issue holding back those Wear OS smartwatches (and letting Apple run away with the smartwatch lead) is the silicon powering them. Right now, they use a Snapdragon 2100 chip from Qualcomm.
With its new CPU, Qualcomm is promising a radical leap forward in the smartwatch experience. But will the new hardware be enough to knock Apple Watch sales down a peg?
Google’s Wear OS Unable to Stop Apple Watch
In the smartwatch market, Apple ran away with the crown and has been able to keep it. The first Apple Watch was released in 2015 and the company has released a new version each year since, each with significant hardware improvements. And each year the company has released a new version of its watchOS operating system.
On the other hand, the companies Google assembled to release its Android Wear smartwatches have struggled.
Most original Android Wear smartwatches were powered by a QCOM Snapdragon 400 chip — essentially a modified smartphone CPU. In February 2016, the company released the Snapdragon 2100, and that CPU has powered almost all Android Wear smartwatches since. The silicon still has its roots in smartphone design and is several generations behind what the Apple Watch Series 3 offers.
Compounding the problem, Google delayed the release of Android Wear 2.0 for a year, renaming its platform Wear OS before finally rolling out the new operating system this March.
As a result of those two issues, only one of Google’s multiple smartwatch partners has had any real success. Fossil Group Inc (NASDAQ:FOSL) has focused on fashion, and managed to notch 4.9 million smartwatch sales in 2017 — good enough for fifth place in the world wearables market, but still well behind the 17.7 million Apple Watch sales.
Wear OS Smartwatches Are Getting a New Qualcomm Chip
With Wear OS, those Android-powered smartwatches finally gained an operating system that could compete with the latest version of watchOS. But the CPU powering everything continues holding the platform back.
However, Qualcomm spoke to Wareable and confirmed a new smartwatch CPU is finally coming this fall. And it won’t just be a minor spec upgrade. QCOM says the new silicon is “designed from the ground up for a no-compromises smartwatch experience.” That means for the first time, it won’t be re-purposed smartphone technology.
The company says that will let manufacturers design smaller smartwatches — the big, clunky versions available today have been off putting for many potential buyers, especially women — yet get better battery life. That improved power management will mean the ability to incorporate additional sensors for health and fitness tracking. All chips will include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, with GPS and LTE an option. And, QCOM says the new CPU will support always-on screen technology so an Android Wear smartwatch will always look good, even when the wearer isn’t interacting with it.
Taking on the Apple Watch Series 4
This fall is shaping up to be an epic battle among smartwatch giants.
Apple is expected to release the Apple Watch Series 4 in September. Fitbit Inc (NYSE:FIT) has its first true smartwatch in the Versa. And both will likely be facing a wave of new Wear OS smartwatches running the latest operating system from Google, and — for the first time — powered by a QCOM smartwatch CPU that’s been designed from the ground up to optimize the wearable experience.
Fitbit will be fighting to stay in the game, while Apple will be pushing for another holiday of record Apple Watch sales. Both will be facing a resurgent Google and its partners, armed with Wear OS and a hot new smartwatch CPU from Qualcomm, and determined to see Android take over the smartwatch market the way it’s dominated smartphones.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.