The single-chip system Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 has been knocked down for two years. While most of the flagship chips for mobile electronics have a life cycle of about one year or less until they give way to more advanced, powerful and energy-efficient solutions, the Wear 2100 has been playing the role of the best single-chip Android Wear wrist watch system for two years. By modern standards it is already an ancient crystal. Apparently, the leader of the market of mobile chips Qualcomm refused to try to gain influence in the sector of wristwatches. The announcement of the Wear 2100 took place in February 2016, but a year later Qualcomm did not prepare anything for the replacement, and now it is not likely that a worthy change is being prepared.
In a healthy competitive market for single-chip systems, this behavior of the manufacturer would not be a disaster, and only Qualcomm would be damaged. Manufacturers would turn to other companies that satisfy the request for the creation of high-quality solutions for portable electronics. The problem is that at present the SoC market is unhealthy. Qualcomm essentially has a monopoly on chips for wristwatches, which for companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola and ASUS, is very harmful. There are practically no other options in the reasonable price range (solutions like Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 based on Intel Atom for $ 1,600 – obviously not for everyone), so companies either continue to supply products on Qualcomm chips 2 years ago (for example, presented in late January Skagen Falster), or stop the production of new watches.
Android Wear is an imperfect operating system for portable electronics, but its main problem is the hardware side of the final products like size, design, performance and battery life. All this largely depends on SoC, and since 2016 OEMs have had nothing new on this front. As a result, stagnation is observed in the field of smart Android wrist watches.
Moreover, the Wear 2100 was not a good chip even at the time of its appearance on the market. The crystal is produced with observance of 28-nm technological standards, which were obsolete already in 2016. At that time, Qualcomm’s flagship single-chip system for smartphones, the Snapdragon 820, had already used a much more advanced 14-nm process technology. To find the flagship 28-nm chip for smartphones, you need to refer to the times Snapdragon 801/800. In other words, 28 nm is a technology that is relevant for smartphones in 2013. More advanced production standards allow, at a minimum, to make more compact chips or to place more useful units on a certain area, and, as a rule, allow to achieve a noticeable reduction in energy consumption. All this is important for smartphones, but even more relevant for portable electronics, where the batteries are much smaller. So Qualcomm never made a real effort to produce good single-chip systems for wristwatches.
From the perspective of the near future, Qualcomm’s behavior is completely justified. Smartphones are sold much more than smart watches, so it’s logical to pay maximum attention to smartphones. But along with the launch of Google’s Android Wear, Qualcomm and a number of manufacturers have tried to create a new “market category of Android-devices” almost from scratch. This is always associated with some risks and certain initial costs on the part of market participants, but the growth potential promised to be great. Despite the fact that Qualcomm never made serious efforts to create a good one-chip system for Android Wear, manufacturers produced a number of rather curious products and tried their best to move forward. But everything has limits, and today this sector creates the impression of the dead.
Meanwhile, the market for “smart watches” as a whole, has no prospects for turning the language on. Apple alone delivered about 8 million Apple Watch in the last quarter of last year – more than sales of all models of Swiss watches combined. Those who still wear a wristwatch are increasingly turning their eyes to iOS products.
Samsung also behaves quite actively in this market and produces its watches, running under its own Tizen OS. These companies were able to avoid the fate of partners Qualcomm thanks to the availability of their own teams that develop single-chip systems for their needs. Moreover, Apple and Samsung devices receive new and quite modern chips every year, while Qualcomm and the Android Wear ecosystem as a whole are treading on the spot. As a result, Apple stands at the top of the wristwatch market, and even Samsung Tizen products took the second place, outperforming the order of 20 Android Wear watch manufacturers together.
No other influential developer of single-chip systems started producing attractive enough single-chip systems for portable electronics, so Qualcomm remained almost the only option for manufacturers. Huawei has its own division for the development of Hisilicon chips, but focuses on solutions for smartphones. It seems that Google is also gradually creating its own unit for the design of single-chip systems – the company hired, among other things, the key architect of Apple chips for the appropriate position at home. So far we have seen only the Google Pixel Visual Core co-processor for machine learning, which is used in Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones, but it seems that the full SoC from Google will someday appear in its smartphones.
In the meantime, smart clocks based on Android continue to be relatively thick, slow and energy-intensive, so they are unable to compete with Apple Watch. It seems that this example proves once again that a natural monopoly can easily lead to stagnation. That’s why Broadcom’s integration with Qualcomm could well lead to more sad consequences for end users.