Broadcom, TI Platforms Aim to Extend Wearable Battery Life

The chip makers' respective platforms are designed to enable smartwatches and other devices to run longer before having to recharge.

wearable devices

Chip makers Broadcom and Texas Instruments are introducing platforms designed to reduce the power consumption in smartwatches and other connected devices.

Broadcom on Feb. 25 unveiled a platform aimed at reducing the power consumption of smartwatches and other devices that run Google's Android Wear operating system for wearable devices. The platform, which will be among the products the chip maker shows off early next month at the Mobile World Congress 2015 show in Barcelona, Spain, reduces the amount of power consumed by the devices by as much as 40 percent, and gives device makers more features that can be added to their offerings, according to company officials.

"Smartwatches represent a big piece of the wearable pie, and Broadcom's new platform expands opportunities for Android Wear developers designing both high-end and affordable devices," Larry Olivas, senior director of business development for wireless connectivity combos at Broadcom, said in a statement.

For its part, Texas Instruments introduced its SimpleLink ultra-low-power wireless microcontroller platform that will enable OEMs to build devices that can go battery-free or run for a long time without having to recharge. In addition, the latest offering in the SimpleLink portfolio provides hardware makers with a range of wireless options, from Bluetooth to ZigBee to 6LoWPAN.

Wearables are expected to be a fast-growing part of the larger Internet of things. IDC analysts last year said shipments of wearable devices could grow from about 19 million units last year to 111.9 million in 2018. Analysts with ABI Research said they expected 10 million activity trackers and 7 million smartwatches would ship in 2014. By 2016, smartwatches will make up about 40 percent of consumer devices worn on the wrist, according to Gartner analysts.

Juniper Research analysts said that, by 2020, the wearable market will be worth $80 billion.

A key part of driving the growth in wearables will be the power consumption of the devices, according to Sarah Murry, Web editor at Broadcom.

"When it comes to developing a new segment of portable electronic devices—from the earliest mobile phones to this new wave of connected wearable devices—there's always been one major challenge: battery life," Murry wrote in a post on the company blog. "From an engineering perspective, it's among the toughest nuts to crack for device makers that are looking to design, test and sell wearable gadgets, such as smartwatches, fitness-tracking bands, eyeglasses or even sensor-laded clothing."

Broadcom's smartwatch platform offers a smaller form factor that enables device makers to add more features or a larger battery inside the wearable technology, which would allow for longer times between charges, company officials said.

The platform, which is currently sampling, includes an application processor and Broadcom's BCM4343 WiFi and Bluetooth combo chip, and OEMs can also integrate other features into it, from a GPS with sensor hub processing and near-field communications (NFC) to wireless charging capabilities and camera support. Included is Broadcom's wearable system-on-a-chip (SoC) and support for Android Wear OS.

Texas Instruments' ultra-low-power SimpleLink platform includes an ARM-based Cortex-M3 microcontroller unit (MCU), flash storage, built-in security and a sensor controller. The first two products in the ultra-low-power MCU platform are the CC2640, which supports Bluetooth Smart connectivity, and the CC2630, which supports 6LoWPAN and ZigBee, officials said. Other members of the platform—in particular, the CC1310 for Sub-1GHz operations and the CC2620 for ZigBee FR4CE—will hit the market later this year.

The new platform also includes an integrated sensor controller that can autonomously connect with external sensors while the rest of the device is in sleep mode, and the complete chip can stay in standby mode at only 1uA with memory retention and the clock running, enabling it to consume half the power of other MCUs, according to Texas Instruments officials.

SimpleLink ultra-low-power wireless MCU platform-based development kits are available now, according to the company.