Qualcomm Targets Wearables With New Snapdragon SoC, Platform

The new Snapdragon Wear platform and 2100 chip are part of a larger effort by Qualcomm to extend its products into emerging growth markets.

Qualcomm SoC

Qualcomm officials are continuing their efforts to expand the reach of the company's wireless chip technologies beyond consumer mobile devices and into emerging industries, such as connected cars, networking and the Internet of things.

The company on Feb. 11 unveiled its latest efforts, introducing a broad array of new chips that can be used not only in smartphones but also in other systems, including Internet of things (IoT) and wearable devices. The headliner is a new platform designed specifically to bring greater connectivity to wearable computing devices.

The new offerings are part of a larger effort by CEO Steve Mollenkopf and other Qualcomm executives to be the dominant system-on-a-chip (SoC) supplier to all wireless devices. The company currently is the world's largest mobile chip maker, but it is feeling the pressure from rising competition and slowing sales in the global smartphone and tablet markets. In response, Qualcomm officials are looking to emerging markets as strong growth areas.

"Our industry and company are undergoing rapid changes and we're enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead," Mollenkopf said during a conference call in January to discuss Qualcomm's most recent quarterly financial numbers. "We're 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."

Most chip makers, including Intel, see huge opportunities in these new markets, building out portfolios of high-performance, low-power processors and setting off a land rush of sorts to grab as much share as possible. It's not hard to understand why, given the growth expectations in the spaces. Cisco Systems officials expect there to be more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020, up from the 25 billion in 2014, and many other vendors and analyst firms are forecasting similar numbers.

At the same time, the wearable market is expected to expand rapidly. Gartner analysts are predicting that 274.6 million wearable devices will be sold across the globe this year, generating $287.7 billion in revenue—with $11.5 billion coming from smartwatches. That compares with the 232 million devices that were sold last year. IDC analysts are forecasting 111.1 million wearable devices shipping this year, a 44.4 percent increase from 2015. By 2019, shipments will hit 214.6 million units, they said.

"The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years, we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC's Mobile Trackers Group, said in a statement in December. "Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities."

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Wear is a platform that offers a suite of silicon products, software, support tools and reference designs that businesses can use to build an array of wearable devices. At the heart of the platform is the new Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. Qualcomm until now has pushed its Snapdragon 400 as its primary chip for wearables.

However, the Snapdragon Wear 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, officials said. The SoC also includes an integrated, ultra-low-power sensor hub and a next-generation Long-Term Evolution (LTE) modem with integrated global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and low-power WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities for an always-on experience.

The Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC and other parts of the wearables platform are available now.