Qualcomm’s new Google WearOS smartwatch chips announced…

Qualcomm's new Google WearOS smartwatch chips announced...
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Qualcomm’s newest smartwatch chips promise longer battery for always-on watch and fitness modes.


Qualcomm

With the next Apple Watch likely to debut this week, Qualcomm has launched an early smartwatch counterpunch. Qualcomm’s next-generation smartwatch chip platform, Snapdragon Wear 3100, will be in Google WearOS watches starting this holiday, the company announced Monday at an event in San Francisco.

The new chips were first teased by Qualcomm at Google’s developer conference in May. Along with Google’s updated WearOS software, the updates aim to improve the problems in current Google WearOS smartwatches… mainly when it comes to battery life. 

Battery life on most high-end smartwatches is days at best. Qualcomm’s new chips won’t do much better than that in standard mode. But they will add new super low-power modes and sports watch-focused enhancements to get more battery life, in a next wave of watches expected between the end of this year and through 2019. Fossil Group, Louis Vuitton and Montblanc will be the first to feature the chips in new Google WearOS watches.

According to Pankaj Kedia, senior director for Qualcomm’s Smart Wearables Segment, the new platform is mostly about ultra low power, to make smartwatches last longer. “Your phone is not very useful without a network,” says Kedia. “Your watch is not very useful if you don’t have time.”

But the extended-life watch modes that promise the most battery life might not have more than basic watch and fitness functions for now.

Always-on watch faces that do more

Google’s WearOS watches already have an ambient always-on watch mode, but it doesn’t do much. Watches with the newer Qualcomm chips will now have always-on watch faces with smooth-moving second hands and up-to-date information displayed via complications, with the possibility of looking more stylish.

GPS fitness-tracking battery improvements coming in 2019

Kedia says that a next wave of sports fitness watches will arrive next year that take advantage of low-power modes to track fitness, heart rate and GPS for longer times, up to 15 hours. (Using GPS and heart rate tracking in current smartwatches often zaps the batteries before the end of your average half-marathon.) In those longer-life fitness modes, other smartwatch features will be inactive. 

Longer battery life could go up to a month in low power mode

Snapdragon 3100 smartwatches should have anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 days of battery life in regular smartwatch mode before shifting into a standard watch mode that lasts a week or more before recharging. That low-power watch mode won’t do anything more than tell the time and date for now, but could maybe do more in the future. Kedia says to expect up to 30 days of battery life if you used a Snapdragon Wear 3100 watch in just a basic watch mode.

No always-on assistant, yet

A promised feature of next-generation Google and Qualcomm WearOS watches back at Google I/O was an always-on Google Assistant that would always be listening. But that’s no longer on the table at the moment. “Always-on assistant is not something we’re announcing at this time,” says Qualcomm’s Kedia. 

Maybe that’s something a future Google-branded WearOS watch would introduce. It’s a curious absence from Snapdragon Wear 3100’s offerings, but Kedia also suggests that watches with this new processor will continue to see new features and performance upgrades via firmware updates in the future, including possibly adding more features to the longer-battery basic watch mode over time.

More big brands to come

Google’s WearOS smartwatch platform attracted lots of fashion watch brands last year, including Fossil Group, Tag Heuer, Movado and Montblanc. This year’s updated WearOS watches have already started to be announced, including new offerings from Casio, Diesel and Skagen.

The Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon, Montblanc Summit 2 and an unnamed Fossil watch will be the first WearOS watches that get Qualcomm’s new 3100 processor. The Montblanc Summit 2 is arriving in October.

Google has already indicated a Pixel-branded smartwatch isn’t happening this year, but a number of third-party updated smartwatches with Qualcomm’s new processors inside could begin arriving through the end of this year and into next. “New customers will jump in the fray,” promises Kedia.

It all sounds like a useful upgrade to WearOS smartwatches, but also entirely necessary if any competitors hope to face off against the imminent next-generation Apple Watch.

CNET is at Qualcomm’s announcement in San Francisco — stay tuned for hands-on impressions from the event. 

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