SAN FRANCISCO—Qualcomm announced a thinner and lower-power family of SoCs, Snapdragon Wear 2100, targeted at the wearable market. The Snapdragon Wear platform is a full suite of silicon, software, support tools, and reference designs.
The company had previously pushed its mobile chips, such as the Snapdragon 400, into the wearable segment. This represents the first time Qualcomm has created a wearable-specific platform.
“The wearables market comes in all shapes and sizes. We’re talking about what you put on your head, what you wear on your wrist,” Pankaj Kedia, Qualcomm’s wearables team lead, told EE Times. “The first thing the wearables market needs is a scalable architecture that delivers different performance needs and different feature needs based on where you’re wearing the device”
The scalable 28nm 10 mm x 10 mm SoC is 30% smaller and 25% lower power than Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 mobile processor. The SoC uses a quad ARM Cortex A7 running up to 1.2 GHz, an Adreno 304 GPU, has 400 MHz of LPDDR3 memory, and an integrated LTE modem DSP. Based on the wearable’s needs, the SoC can run in single, dual, or quad-core configurations.
Snapdragon Wear isn’t designed for cheap fitness bands, said Tirias Research Founder and Principal Analyst Jim McGregor. Rather, the SoC will target wearables that have a screen or need graphics capabilities, but also low power – think high-end fitness bands, smartwatches, and augmented reality glasses.
To satisfy a variety of connectivity needs, Qualcomm designed different versions of Snapdragon Wear to support Bluetooth/Wi-Fi or a 4G LTE/3G cellular connection. The X5 LTE modem supports global bands and could set Q’comm apart from its competitors.
“Most devices today are peripheral to the smartphone. [Cellular connectivity] really gives them a lead-in and advantage, especially with the smartphone OEMs,” McGregor said, adding that Qualcomm’s leadership in wireless connectivity will help decrease the SoC’s power profile.
In addition to low-power connectivity and software to optimize the power needs of various applications, Kedia said Qualcomm decreased power consumption by using its DSP for multiple functions including sensor fusion and GNSS.
“Things that you do more often like ‘Ok Google’ or tilting your wrist so the screen comes up – we do that in the DSP. Things you do less often like watching pictures or messaging, we do on the main processor,” he said.
Qualcomm will provide reference designs for its Snapdragon Wear platform and is designed to complement Android Wear. The company also has a “close partnership” with AT&T to “help simplify the pre-certification and onboarding process for OEMs like LG when launching a wearable device”—especially one with cellular connectivity.
While Snapdragon Wear represents a big move for Qualcomm, it faces steep competition from the likes of STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, and NXP – which all have a broad portfolio of microcontrollers. Embedded companies have the real advantage in this space, McGregor added.
“Qualcomm is getting there and I would say [Snapdragon] 2100 is a compelling solution. Combined with what they got from [the acquisition of wireless connectivity company] CSR, it’s got a good product portfolio,” McGregor said.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times