Despite launching a year earlier, Google’s Wear OS platform has been unable to make even a tiny dent in the Apple Watch’s market share. Certainly, some of the blame rests squarely on Google’s proverbial shoulders as it struggles to design compelling experiences on such a small screen. However, the sluggish, power-hungry wearable chipsets in watches have been an even bigger problem. Qualcomm has announced a pair of new wearable chips that might finally fix that. The Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100 Plus improve on the old Wear 3100 in every way, but it’ll take more than new hardware to turn around Google’s smartwatch project.
First, a little history. The first Android-powered smartwatches ran on low-power phone processors like the Snapdragon 400. Later, Qualcomm produced the Wear 2100 with a few modifications for wearables, but the Cortex A7 CPU cores were slow even by 2016’s standards. The Wear 3100 came in 2018 with a high-efficiency co-processor to improve always-on features, but the A7 CPU cores were even more out-of-date by then. The 4100 finally revamps the entire chip, which should make future wearable devices much more capable. We hope.
The Wear 4100 and 4100 Plus share all the same core features. In place of the archaic 28nm A7 cores, the 4100s have four 12nm Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.7GHz — Qualcomm says it’s about 85 percent faster than the 3100. Memory speed is also nearly doubled from 400MHz to 750Mhz. The GPU is about two and a half times faster, too.
The Wear 3100 debuted the QCC1110 co-processor, and it’s still around in the new generation. However, it’s only part of the 4100 Plus chip — this is what makes it the “Plus.” The “Enhanced” QCC1110 has a Cortex M0 processor core along with its own dedicated memory and display controller. It supports more colors in always-on mode, number kerning, haptics, and more. Manufacturers that choose to go with the regular 4100 won’t have the enhanced always-on functionality.
Qualcomm has started shipping chips to its partners, but there aren’t many companies still trying to make Wear OS devices. Fossil will probably get to the 4100 eventually, but Mobvoi says it’s already working on a 4100-based watch. Google itself might finally give wearables a shot with its pending acquisition of Fitbit. But after years of mediocre hardware and software, is anyone still waiting for a Google smartwatch?
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