On Tuesday, Qualcomm announced the two newest processors joining its line of Wear OS chips. The Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus and Snapdragon Wear 4100 represent the first major updates to the chipmaker’s smartwatch platform since 2018. However, they are the first to bring noteworthy performance and speed updates since 2016.
Qualcomm promises that its latest chips will deliver massive improvements in areas like GPU, memory, and overall battery life. Even so, it might be too late to rescue Google’s wavering Wear OS platform from smartwatch obscurity.
Meet the Wear 4100 Plus
Given that the last version of Qualcomm’s smartwatch chips, the Snapdragon Wear 3100 series, shared the same main processor as 2016’s Snapdragon 2100 it wasn’t very impressive.
Perhaps the biggest improvement of the Wear 4100 chips is that Qualcomm decided to make the jump from a 28nm process to a 12nm one. It is a timely—if not somewhat late—improvement. The processor features four A53 CPU cores clocked at 1.7GHz. That’s a big improvement over the 3100’s 1.1GHz A7 cores. Qualcomm says that its latest processors should deliver more than 85 percent faster performance.
Notably, the Snapdragon 4100 line is made of two different chips. The premier model is the Snapdragon 4100 Plus. It is a hybrid platform that has an updated version of Qualcomm’s always-on QCC1110 co-processor alongside the main SDM429w SoC. This gives developers additional resources when they want to add always-on functionalities to their smartwatches.
For those who don’t need such capabilities, the standard Snapdragon Wear 4100 model offers only the SDM429w SoC.
Of course, the 4100 Plus model is touted as the flagship for a reason. Its co-processor features several improvements. They allow modern smartwatches to display up to 64,000 colors, a major upgrade from the 16 colors allowed by the 3100 chips. It also supports features like step counting, continuous heart-rate tracking, alarms, and haptic feedback. Prior to the upgrade, the main processor had to handle these tasks.
Meanwhile, thanks to the jump to a 12nm architecture, Qualcomm promises that smartwatches outfitted with its Snapdragon 4100 series chips should benefit from 25 percent better battery life.
Rolling Out Too Late?
Qualcomm is already rolling out its Wear 4100 and 4100 Plus chips to device manufacturers. This means that the first devices containing them are set to debut within a few months.
One of which is Mobvoi’s new TicWatch model. Another is a kid-friendly smartwatch being developed by Xiaotiancai.
Thanks to the improvements in the new chips, Google’s Wear OS is ready to become a lot more functional. However, it might already be too late for the platform.
The smartwatch industry is largely dominated by two players—Apple and Samsung. Their Apple Watch and Samsung Gear lineups respectively adorn the wrists of most smartwatch wearers. A report by Statista shows that the duo held 69.4 percent of the global smartwatch market share in the first quarter of 2020.
If there is one hope left for Google’s smartwatch ambitions, it lies with Fitbit. The Big Tech giant recently announced that it plans to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion. Doing so may help it gain traction in the wearables market and revive its Wear OS platform.
Should Google start making a push into the smartwatch world with the assets it gains from Fitbit, Qualcomm’s new Wear 4100 series chips will be a crucial part of the effort.