Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs Powering Latest Fossil Smartwatches

Fossil's Marshal and Q Wander smartwatches are part of the company's larger ambition to roll out more than 100 wearable devices this year.

Qualcomm chips

Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips aimed at the wearable device market are powering the latest smartwatches from Fossil Group.

At the IFA 2016 show in Berlin this week, officials with both companies announced that Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), which were first introduced in February, are powering both the Fossil Q Marshal and Fossil Q Wander smartwatches.

Qualcomm already supplies the most chips for smartphones and tablets, and company officials are looking to push their technologies into spaces for other connected devices. Global shipments of smartphones are slowing as the global market matures, and tablets sales are declining, so Qualcomm is pushing into a broad range of growth market, including wearables, the internet of things, and virtual and augmented reality.

During a conference call earlier this year, CEO Steve Mollenkopf noted the "rapid changes" both the industry and his company are undergoing, adding that Qualcomm is "extending our leadership in mobile and are driving our mobile technologies and core competencies in communication systems and high-performance low-power computing into significant new areas. We have taken action to enable us to seize these opportunities, while delivering improved performance."

The Snapdragon Wear 2100 is one of those products designed to expand the reach of Qualcomm's technologies. It's a suite of silicon products, software, support tools and reference designs that businesses can use to build an array of wearable devices, and at the heart of the platform is the new Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. Before that, the company had pushed its Snapdragon 400 as its primary chip for wearables.

The Snapdragon 2100 is 30 percent smaller and provides 25 percent lower power consumption than the 400, enabling the development of thinner devices with longer battery life, according to company officials. It also includes an integrated, ultra-low-power sensor hub and an LTE modem with integrated global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and low-power WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities. Snapdragon Wear 2100 is the company's second-generation processor for smartwatches running Google's Android mobile operating system.

Fossil's smartwatches aren't the only devices using the Snapdragon Wear 2100—for example, Asus' ZenWatch 3 also is powered by the chip. But getting Fossil to adopt the brand was a big win for Qualcomm. According to Greg McKelvey, chief strategy and chief digital officer at Fossil, the company is aggressively pushing into the wearables market, planning to roll out more than 100 devices this year.

Fossil over the past couple of years also has introduced Android-based smartwatches and fitness trackers powered by Intel chips.

The global market for wearable devices continues to expand. IDC analysts expect 101.9 million units to ship by the end of this year, which will be a 29 percent increase over 2015. It will grow at about 20.3 percent a year through 2020, when 213.6 million units will ship, the analysts said in a report in June. The trend toward cellular connectivity—which means the devices no longer have to be tethered to a smartphone—and the increasing number of applications that can run on the devices will help drive growth in the future, the analyst said.

In the smartwatch segment of the wearable market, shipments in the second quarter fell 32 percent, to 3.5 million units, driven in large part by shipment declines of the Apple Watch, IDC analysts said. Apple, the top vendor in the space, was the only company in the top five to see a decline in shipments. Consumers are delaying purchases while awaiting anticipated upgrades to the watchOS operating system due later this year.

The analysts also said they are waiting for the arrival of more traditional watchmakers into the smartwatch space. Most devices are pushed by technology vendors, according to Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's wearables unit.

"This seems to be changing, albeit slowly, as key vendors like Casio, Fossil, and Tag Heuer have launched their own models to the market," Llamas said in a statement. "Still, participation from traditional watchmaker brands is imperative to deliver some of the most important qualities of a smartwatch sought after by end-users, namely design, fit, and functionality. Combine these with the brand recognition and distribution these brands already have, and it's reasonable to expect the smartwatch market to grow from here."