Qualcomm’s W5 wearable platform is faster and has significantly improved battery life

In the context: In the early days of the wearables market, devices like smartwatches used components that were primarily designed for smartphones. From a practical standpoint, it made complete sense. A huge amount of time and money has been invested in smartphone-related technologies, and with appropriate adaptations, chips based on these technologies have proven to be suitable for the nascent wearable industry. However, there is nothing that can replace dedicated engineering, and that is exactly what Qualcomm is doing with its new Snapdragon W5 platforms.

In the tech business, it sometimes takes a few generations to really fix things. This is especially true in the semiconductor industry, where multi-year development cycles often mean that parts originally intended for one purpose or device are used in another application.

After several iterations of silicon designs for wearables over the past few years, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon W5+ and W5 Gen 1 platforms use fewer phone-based elements and more dedicated wearable-driven technologies.

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

Qualcomm is taking an important step towards several of these vectors by moving to a more compact and power efficient 4nm design. The new architecture moves the ability to perform several important functions, including on-screen notifications and audio playback, from the main processor to an always-on, ultra-low power co-processor. This means that smartwatches based on this hybrid design can run most of the time without turning on the main processor at all – a huge step forward in terms of energy efficiency and battery life.

In addition to these changes, Qualcomm has implemented what it calls low power “islands”, which are groups of sub-components that work together to perform specific tasks such as WiFi, GPS, and audio playback, as well as multiple low power states. such as Deep Sleep and Hibernate, which are performed in conjunction with a newly developed power management IC. Together, this results in an average 50% reduction in power consumption compared to the previous generation 4100 series chips.

In the real world, a slim smartwatch with a 300mAh battery can last from 28 to 43 hours, while a sports watch with 4G connectivity and a 600mAh battery can last from 48 to 72 hours.

Both the main SoC (SW5100) and the co-processor (dubbed QCC5100) in the W5+ are Arm-based cores. The W5 is just the SW5100 sold without a coprocessor. The SW5100 features four A53 CPU cores clocked at 1.7GHz, two Adreno 702 GPU cores clocked at 1GHz, dual ISPs, and WiFi, GNSS, and an optional 4G modem among other components. The QCC5100 co-processor is based on a 250MHz Cortex M55 processor and includes a display driver, separate GPU, Bluetooth 5.3 radio, and more.

In terms of performance, the combination of the two chips delivers a twofold improvement as well as a 50% reduction in power consumption, Qualcomm says. With the move to more advanced manufacturing nodes, the chips and boards they sit on have become smaller, allowing the design to be 30% thinner (4nm versus 12nm in the latest design for the main SoC and 22nm for the coprocessor). -processor versus 28 nm in the previous one).

The more powerful core processor also enables new types of smartwatch interactions, including two-way video calling, 3D watch faces, real-time image recognition, smart device control, and more. In the W5+, the coprocessor also integrates constant recognition and the Arm-based U55 machine learning core for health and fitness applications.

On the software side, Qualcomm continues to partner with Google Wear OS for mainstream wearables and Android AOSP for low-cost and specialized wearables for kids, businesses, and more. Qualcomm has worked with several different companies to optimize various app features such as Tile for Find My Device, NXP for mobile payments, Sensory for low power speech recognition and more.

Mobvoi will unveil the first Snapdragon W5+-powered Wear OS product this fall, and Oppo will unveil the first W5 smartwatch with AOSP, called the Oppo Watch 3 next month.

Overall, this looks like a step forward for the wearables market and the smartwatch category. With more advanced interactions and longer battery life, the Snapdragon W5 platform could help overcome the objections of some smartwatch opponents to this category, as well as inspire device enthusiasts to consider new options.

Bob O’Donnell – Founder and Principal Analyst Technalize Research LLC technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and the financial professional community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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