According to Counterpoint, Apple has more than 30 percent of the global smartwatch market share; in comparison, rival Samsung has only 10 percent of the market. Indeed, these two brands account for more than 40% of the smartwatch market. Because Apple and Samsung use their own chips in smartwatches, chipmakers such as MediaTek and Qualcomm have found it extremely difficult to break into this market. In the case of Qualcomm, the general consensus was that its smartwatch-centric chips lagged behind both Samsung and Apple offerings in terms of performance.
Worse, Google’s Wear OS platform — which powered a sizable portion of smartwatches from companies other than Apple and Samsung — was not exactly known for its usability. The platform was also notorious for being buggy. Simply put, things looked bleak for those looking for Wear OS smartwatches powered by Qualcomm chips. Given that dismal state of affairs, it was clear that Qualcomm and Google wanted to do something to change the situation. Things began to move after Google persuaded Samsung to abandon its Tizen-based OS for smartwatches in favor of Wear OS. The second major shift occurred when Qualcomm announced the release of its next-generation chips for smartwatches.
Arguably the most important Qualcomm chip in recent history
On July 19, Qualcomm announced its next-generation chips for smartwatches and wearables, following a steady stream of teasers. The Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 and Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 processors have entirely new names despite being direct successors to the Snapdragon 4100 and 4100+ chips released by Qualcomm in 2020. The Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 chip is the main focus, as it will be used in the majority of Wear OS-powered smartwatches in the near future. The Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 chip will only be used in China-specific smartwatches and devices for children, seniors, and commercial establishments.
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A closer look at the W5+ chip’s spec sheet reveals that the new chips are a significant improvement over their predecessors. To begin, the W5+ chip is manufactured on a 4nm process, as opposed to the 12nm process used by the Wear 4100+. In the world of microprocessors, this is nothing short of a generational leap.
Qualcomm claims that just this change makes the W5+ platform 50% “better” than its predecessor. In addition to the main chip, the W5+ has a co-processor built on a 22nm manufacturing process. Qualcomm also claims that the W5+ Gen 1 chip will be twice as fast in most daily tasks that you throw at watches. Connectivity features have also been improved, with newer chips supporting faster network speeds and newer Bluetooth connectivity standards. Because of the smaller manufacturing process, the actual SoC is physically smaller than its predecessors. This should also allow manufacturers to reduce the size of smartwatches without sacrificing performance or features.
When are the first W5+ smartwatches coming?
When Qualcomm announces new chipsets, people typically have to wait a long time before brands begin using them on new devices. The Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 is not one of them. The company announced the release of two new smartwatches, the first commercial devices to use the new chip. The Oppo Watch 3, which is expected to be released in August, will be the first smartwatch to use this chip. The second confirmed product to receive the new chipset is a Mobvoi TicWatch model. This TicWatch model does not yet have a release date, but the company says it will be available this fall.
In addition to these confirmed models, Qualcomm used the launch to show off two reference smartwatch designs. These two products, dubbed “Compal” and “Pegatron,” will be used to demonstrate to Qualcomm’s customers the enhanced capabilities of the Snapdragon W5+ platform. It will be interesting to see if Wear OS improvements and the arrival of faster Qualcomm chipsets will help boost sales of Wear OS-powered smartwatches in the future.