The last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona saw a huge introduction of smart wearable devices, such as fitness bands and smartwatches. Many of the top smartphone vendors, including Samsung, LG, and Sony, had several new offerings in this area.
Last week I had the opportunity to talk to David Maidment, mobile segment marketing manager at ARM, who is now focusing on the wearable market. He shared his views on this new exciting market for the company.
EE Times: What ARM technologies are present in the new generation of wearables in the market?
Maidment: At ARM we work right across the value chain: we are working with the OEMs, with the silicon partners, with the service providers that are looking to make use of the new technologies. Mainly we are working with the low power of ARM’s IP, primarily in the space of the Cortex M and Cortex A family of processors, on Mali GPU Family and the TrustZone technology, which plays an important part of the security in the wearable devices.
EE Times: What is ARM’s value proposition in the wearable market?
Maidment: The wearables present an incredible opportunity for our value proposition because of the small form factor and small batteries. And people don’t want to be charging them very often, maybe once a week. As a result you require ultra-low-power processors, and that is a perfect match for ARM's product platform and our designs. One nice example is the watch I use, the Pebble, a smartwatch based on a Cortex M3 processor. The battery lasts for about a week. Feels like a normal watch, but has a world of applications.
EE Times: Do you think that, over time, smartwatches and other wearables will take most of the functions people use on smartphones?
Maidment: We see wearables primarily as a companion device for the smartphone platform. We talk about the smartphone as your personal hub. It is a highly connected device. There is a high level of connectivity in the smartphone, seamlessly for the consumer with WiFi, cellular, LTE. And the consumers are very well educated about that, they are comfortable with the connectivity options of the smartphones. What we see with wearables is taking that smartphone experience and using the wearables in their everyday lives.
EE Times: What is the most popular OS for wearables? Are people developing their own interfaces?
Maidment: We work across every conceivable variation of operating system on our architecture. For example, in the low end, such as fitness bands, you are running relatively simple ARM software, and typically the OEM implements a simple application there. When you go across to the watch, we see a very fragmented landscape, and that reflects the state of the market as well. We see Samsung there with Tizen. We see a lot of innovation with Android, with custom UIs. We are excited to see Android Wear, and we are proud to be a strong partner there with the LG and Samsung watches that were announced. Also we are seeing more development on how the device talks directly to the cloud without an operating system. Pebble, for example, have launched their own app store, cloud based, so developers can access the features of the watch directly.
EE Times: Do you think wearables will be featuring their own internet connectivity, or will they always be connected to a smartphone or other device?
Maidment: The tether model dominates the market, and there are good reasons for that. A smartphone is the perfect hub because it has many connectivity options such as WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G, and now 4G LTE. We do have examples where the wearable connects directly via a Wide Area Network. We’ve done a lot of interesting work with Omate, a very interesting company that has a cellular connected watch [powered by ARM Dual Core Cortex-A7 MediaTek MT6572] with Android, and uses a SIM card connecting directly to a 3G network. This is the kind of autonomous technology that, for example, your child can wear, and you can know where he is, and he can send and receive messages.