Previous Blogs

July 12, 2022
New Research Highlights Opportunities and Challenges for Private 5G

June 29, 2022
Arm Aims to Make Mobile Graphics “Immortal-is”

June 14, 2022
Cisco Brings Simplicity and Observability to Networks, Collaboration and Cloud Apps

May 24, 2022
Microsoft Unveils Foundation for AI-Powered Client/Cloud Hybrid Loop

May 18, 2022
Citrix to Integrate with Microsoft Windows 365

May 3, 2022
Dell Expands APEX, Adds Analytics and Data Recovery

April 27, 2022
Arm Simplifies and Modernizes IoT Development with Virtual Hardware

April 21, 2022
Amazon’s Launch of Buy with Prime Highlights Growth of Logistics Business

March 30, 2022
Intel Spices Up PC Market with Arc GPU Launch

March 22, 2022
Nvidia GTC Announcements Confirm it’s a Connected, Multi-Chip World

March 15, 2022
Lenovo and AMD Announcements Highlight Spring PC Refresh

March 8, 2022
The Future of Semiconductors is UCIe

March 2, 2022
Qualcomm Demos Future of Connectivity with WiFi 7 and X70 5G Chips

February 24, 2022
5G Edge Computing Challenges Remain

February 9, 2022
Samsung Raises the Bar with Ultra Versions of S22 and Tab S8

January 20, 2022
US 5G Market Just Got Much More Interesting

January 4, 2022
Qualcomm Extends Automotive Offerings with Snapdragon Ride Vision, Digital Chassis

2021 Blogs

2020 Blogs

2019 Blogs

2018 Blogs

2017 Blogs

2016 Blogs

2015 Blogs

2014 Blogs

2013 Blogs

TECHnalysis Research Blog

July 19, 2022
Qualcomm Accelerates Wearables with W5 Platforms

By Bob O'Donnell

In the tech business, sometimes it takes a few generations to really get things right. That’s particularly true in the semiconductor industry, where multi-year development cycles often mean that parts originally intended for one purpose or device get used in a different application.

In the early days of the wearables market, for example, devices like smartwatches used components that were primarily designed for smartphones. From a practical perspective, this made complete sense. Huge amounts of time and money had been invested in smartphone-related technologies, and with the appropriate adaptations, chips based on these technologies proved to be a good fit for the nascent wearables industry.

However, there’s nothing that can replace the value and benefit of purpose-built designs, and that’s exactly what Qualcomm is doing with its new Snapdragon W5+ and W5 Gen 1 platforms for the wearable business. The company has gone through several iterations of its silicon designs for wearables over the last few years, with each of them using fewer smartphone-based elements and more dedicated wearable-driven technologies. Now, with the new W5 lines, the transition is complete. As a result, we should start seeing some impressive new capabilities that uniquely match the specific needs of wearable devices.

As the smartwatch market has matured, for example, it’s become clear that multi-day battery life, always on displays, and more advanced interaction models have become important expectations from potential purchasers. In order to achieve this, you need a chip with an architecture that draws less power and is smarter about how it consumes the battery power that it has access to. Oh, and a smaller size wouldn’t hurt either.

With the W5+/W5, Qualcomm took an important step towards several of those vectors by moving to a smaller, more power efficient 4 nm design. Equally important, the new architecture moves the capability to do multiple critical functions, including screen-based notifications and audio playback, away from the main processor to the always-on, ultra-low power co-processor. Practically speaking, that means smartwatches based on this enhanced hybrid design can function the vast majority of the time without turning on the main processor at all—a huge step forward in power efficiency and improved battery life.

In addition to these physical changes, Qualcomm has implemented what it calls low power “islands”, which are groups of sub-components that work together to complete certain tasks, such as WiFi, GPS, and audio playback, as well as several low power states such as Deep Sleep and Hibernate, which are done in conjunction with a newly designed power management IC. Collectively, these changes translate to an impressive average of 50% less power consumption versus the previous generation 4100 series chips. In real-world terms that means slim smartwatches with a 300 mAh capacity battery can jump from 28 to 43 hours of battery life, and a 4G connected sportswatch with a 600 mAh battery goes from 48 to 72 hours of battery life.

Both the main SOC (System on Chip), which Qualcomm calls the SW5100, and the co-processor (dubbed the QCC5100) in the W5+ are Arm-based cores. (The W5 is simply the SW5100 sold without the QCC5100 co-processor.) The SW5100 features four A53 CPU cores running at 1.7 GHz, two Adreno 702 GPU cores clocked at 1 GHz, two ISPs (image signal processors), as well as WiFi, GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), and an optional 4G modem among other components. The QCC5100 co-processor is based on a Cortex M55 CPU running at 250 MHz, and incorporates a display driver, separate GPU, Bluetooth 5.3 radio, and more.

From a performance perspective, the combination of these two chips, and the technologies they incorporate, translates into what Qualcomm says will be a 2x improvement versus its previous generation chips (along with the 50% reduction in power). Additionally, thanks to the move to more advanced manufacturing nodes, the chips and boards that hold them are smaller, allowing for up to 30% slimmer designs (4 nm vs. 12 nm in the last design for the main SOC, and 22 nm for the co-processor vs. 28 nm in the previous one).

The more powerful main processor also enables new types of interactions with smartwatches, including 2-way video calling, 3-D watch faces, real-time image recognition, smart device control and more. With the W5+, the co-processor also integrates always-on sensing and an Arm-based U55 machine learning core for health and fitness applications—a critical capability for most smartwatch buyers.

From a software perspective, Qualcomm is continuing to partner with Google’s Wear OS for mainstream designs and with Android AOSP for lower-cost and specialized designs for kids, seniors, enterprise, etc. In addition, Qualcomm worked with several different companies to optimize different application capabilities such as Tile for Find My Device, NXP for mobile payments, Sensory for low-power speech recognition, and more.

On the hardware design side, Qualcomm worked with Taiwanese ODMs Compal and Pegatron to make reference designs for Wear OS and Android AOSP-equipped watches respectively. In addition, the first Snapdragon W5+-powered Wear OS product is coming from Mobvoi this fall, and Oppo is debuting the first W5 with AOSP-driven smartwatch called the Oppo Watch 3 next month.

All told, it looks to be a big step forward for the wearables market and the smartwatch category in particular. By enabling more advanced interactions and much longer battery life, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5+/W5 Gen 1 platforms can help to overcome the objections that some smartwatch holdouts have had about the category, while also inspiring the device’s enthusiasts to consider new options.

Here’s a link to the original column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.