While much of our attention has been focused on the latest smartphone innovations, wearables have quietly been doing great. IDC projects the shipment of wearable devices to double by 2021, and by 2022, smartwatches are projected to account for 40% of all shipments of wearable devices. Much of the growth is thanks to the success of the Apple Watch brand even though the number of smartwatches running the Wear OS platform continues to grow. Wear OS smartwatches just don’t offer the kind of battery life you’ll get from smartwatches running Apple’s watchOS or Samsung’s Tizen OS, and that’s because Wear OS smartwatches have mostly been using the old Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform. Today, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform has been announced, and the many improvements in Qualcomm’s latest wearable platform are poised to bring great battery life to upcoming Wear OS smartwatches.
We first heard about the existence of a new Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear platform back in May. We were promised a new wearable platform that would be built from the ground up with an emphasis on size reduction, battery longevity, and optimizing the smartwatch experience. The previous generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform is a watch-optimized version of the 5-year old Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC that was built on a 28nm and designed for smartphones. Finally, we have a wearable platform from Qualcomm that can compete with the chipsets in the Samsung Gear (now Samsung Galaxy Watch) and Apple Watch.
How the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 Brings Better Battery Life to Smartwatches
The prevailing thought for years was to treat smartwatches like miniature smartphones. That hasn’t been working out, however, as few users actually actively engage with their smartwatches for extended periods of time. Whereas one might spend hours a day on their smartphone, users spend far less time using their smartwatch. Qualcomm found that their Snapdragon Wear 2100’s application processor was being used 5% of the time while the remaining 95% of the time the smartwatch is idle. Thus, Qualcomm focused much of their efforts on optimizing the battery usage for the idle case, while Google works on optimizing the battery usage in Wear OS.
As part of Qualcomm’s new Big-Small-Tiny hierarchical architecture for wearable platforms, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform consists of high-performance quad-core A7 application processors (Big), a highly-efficient integrated DSP (small), and a new ultra-low-power co-processor (QCC1110) (Tiny). The new platform on its own increases battery life from 4 to 12 hours when compared to its predecessor, the Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform, although the exact battery life improvement depends on the battery capacity, display size, and device configuration. Specifically, power reductions versus the Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform were made in the following areas: Lowest power mode (67%), GPS/location batching (49%), keyword detection (43%), per minute/second clock updates (35%), MP3 playback (34%), and voice queries over Bluetooth/Wi-Fi (13%). How exactly has Qualcomm managed to enhance the battery life of the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform by so much? It’s largely thanks to the co-processor and a new wearable power management sub-system (PMW3100).
The ultra-low-power co-processor in the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform took Qualcomm 2 years to develop. The co-processor is responsible for managing that 95% of idle time that most smartwatches are in. It’s incredibly small—only 21mm²—and consumes 20 times less active power than the application processor. It has custom designed static RAM (SRAM), runs an Event-Driven real-time operating system (RTOS), and uses Near-Threshold Computing techniques to operate at the lowest possible voltage. Although the co-processor can be standalone, it works in tandem with the application processor for enhanced audio, display, and sensor experiences. Its deep learning engine for custom workloads like keyword detection is extensible over time.
The new wearable Power Management Integrated Circuit (PMIC) is designed for lower power operation while reducing the size and increasing integration. It adds a new Digital Signal Processor (DSP) framework with support for next-generation sensor processing in an open execution environment to allow OEMs to implement their own algorithm to create their own sports experience. There’s also a new dual-display architecture to let each processor (the application processor and the co-processor) power the display independently.
Enhancing the user experience in Wear OS
Since the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform will be used in smartwatches ranging from fashion watches to sports watches, the new wearable platform needs to be flexible for all use cases. The platform needs to support fitness, navigation, music, calendar, payments, voice assistance, notifications, and much more. Qualcomm worked closely with Google to optimize the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform for Wear OS. Qualcomm announced three personalized experiences for next-generation Wear OS smartwatches, with more to come as a testament to the platform’s extensibility.
- Enhanced Ambient Mode: For fashion watches, support a smooth second hand, up to 16 colors active on the display, live complications like step count, battery life, etc., and improved brightness by taking advantage of the ambient light sensor to dim or brighten the display.
- Dedicated Sports Experiences: For sports watches, support long-durations (up to 15 hours based on a typical 450mAh battery capacity) of activities such as running, swimming, biking, hiking, and more with the GPS and heart rate sensors enabled.
- Traditional Watch Mode: For all smartwatches, support extended battery life by shutting down Wear OS while still showing the clock and date complications (watch face can still be customized). If the smartwatch switches to this mode at 15% battery, you can expect up to 1 week of extended battery life. If the smartwatch extends to this mode at full battery capacity, you can expect up to 1 month of extended battery life.
The Enhanced Ambient Mode and Traditional Watch Mode will be available at the launch of the platform. The Dedicated Sports Experience will be available in the future with the release of a sports-focused smartwatch.
Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 Connectivity
The Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform will ship in three variants: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tethered smartwatches, GPS-based tethered smartwatches, and 4G LTE connected smartwatches. The 4G LTE modem has been paired with a new high-performance Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) power amplifier to improve power efficiency. Lastly, in collaboration with NXP, the NFC chip has been updated to allow for smaller antennas and higher reader interoperability.
First Smartwatch Partners Announced
Although the rumored trio of Google Pixel watches won’t be happening this year, Qualcomm has announced the names of three partners that will be the first to ship smartwatches on the new Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform. Those partners are the Fossil Group, Louis Vuitton, and Montblanc. The Montblanc Summit 2 was announced during the event. Designed for both sexes, the new Summit 2 is aimed at travelers.