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Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault (arstechnica.com) 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault

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  • by mhkohne ( 3854 ) on Saturday February 10, 2018 @06:49PM (#56101835) Homepage

    but I think you may have reversed the cause and effect here. It may be that Qualcomm isn't doing anything because the market isn't there. Because, honestly, most people don't care about smartwatches.

    • Besides, if Google REALLY wanted to put some serious R&D effort into reinvigorating Android Wear, they could commission an updated SOC from the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, or Intel. They have the money to do so if they wanted, but it seems that they also seem to be OK with letting that product line wither on the vine and focus their efforts on Cloud Hosting and Smart Speakers instead.

    • Chicken and egg (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Saturday February 10, 2018 @08:03PM (#56102099) Journal

      I think people don't care about the smartwatch because it is still a glorified watch instead of what it should be. A leap in tech is needed to make it what it should be though Apple is nearing the ballpark. If Android Wear matched Apple tech, we'd be within a generation or two of the critical tech mass for smartwatches.

      I'd like for it to have full-time EKG as opposed to HR, SPO2, body temperature sensor, blood sugar from sweat for the diabetics out there, a display at least as large as the ionic, Google Assistant, different vibration patterns for different reminders, LTE, WiFi, android apps, accurate GPS augmented by WiFi and accelerometers to get very accurate locations, speaker, mic, bluetooth, etc.

      I'd then have everything I need in one place and could eliminate the bulky smartphone. I hate having things in pockets or on my belt. This is why it isn't being pushed. Ultimately, it could replace the more lucrative smartphone.

      Frankly, I'm not sure I need the watch function though the computer has to have it.

    • Indeed, so many people didnâ(TM)t care about smart watches last year that the Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch market combined last year.

      • Indeed, so many people didnâ(TM)t care about smart watches last year that the Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch market combined last year.

        Exactly.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          So basically the watch is dying and only victims of Apples marketing are still buying what's left of the watch market. Bought a smart phone, took off my watch, never put it back on again, not once and I fell liberated from the discomfort, having no need to pose with a wrist bracelet. As for the phone, I generally strive to use it for the smart features and make calls not so into receiving calls where even I am, I strive to avoid that, very invasive. I am older and jumping in a car to drive to a business tri

          • So basically the watch is dying and only victims of Apples marketing are still buying what's left of the watch market. Bought a smart phone, took off my watch, never put it back on again, not once and I fell liberated from the discomfort, having no need to pose with a wrist bracelet. As for the phone, I generally strive to use it for the smart features and make calls not so into receiving calls where even I am, I strive to avoid that, very invasive. I am older and jumping in a car to drive to a business trip, the way there and on the way back, was a great escape from the office and the phones. Young people have no idea what they are missing out on. Make the device your tool don't let the device turn you into a tool to be used.

            So, in typical Slashtard fashion, your Preferences should be EVERYONE's Preferences, right?

      • Indeed, so many people didnÃ(TM)t care about smart watches last year that the Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch market combined last year.

        Some people are dumb enough to go buy anything with an Apple logo on it, even if it puts different characters into text input fields than what they typed. The swiss watch market is dying because it is stupid. A $15 Casio tells better time than a $5,000 conglomeration of gears and springs. They're just jewelry for men.

    • wristwatches... But I no longer have the two smartwatches that I bought. Instead, I have a handful of wristwatches, any one of which I wear on a given day, without fail. The smartwatches themselves are long gone to eBay.

      The smartwatches were a pain to use and did nothing well, had a hit-and-miss UI that only sometimes felt even partially usable, and they had to keep coming off and on for charging, which meant that I'd routinely forget to wear them for the day (I tried two in succession). I really liked havi

  • Unless there is something magic about the Qualcomm parts (or Qualcomm holds patents that are required to build an SoC suitable for an Android wear device) why couldn't someone else who makes SoCs of this sort get into the market?

    Does Samsung sell its Exynos SoCs to other vendors?
    Does Mediatek make a SoC suitable for a smartwatch?

    • Unless there is something magic about the Qualcomm parts (or Qualcomm holds patents that are required to build an SoC suitable for an Android wear device) why couldn't someone else who makes SoCs of this sort get into the market?

      Does Samsung sell its Exynos SoCs to other vendors?
      Does Mediatek make a SoC suitable for a smartwatch?

      Because Apple doesn't want to make Android Wear...

  • yeah sure it must be the chip manufacturers fault, can't possibly be nobody wants the shit! chip manufacturers will make whatever is in demand and makes them money.
  • by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Saturday February 10, 2018 @07:39PM (#56101999) Journal
    The "Android Smartwatch" market isn't dead because Qualcom hasn't released a new suitable SoC - rather, Qualcom hasn't made a new SoC because the smartwatch market is dead.

    The smartwatch was always going to be a niche offering, and primarily of interest to a geek market (iFans not withstanding). Adding health monitoring was a good step to expand the niche, but even then these are not devices that lend themselves to an upgrade cycle like phones (once again, iFans not withstanding).

    For example, I own an original (Kickstarter) Pebble, and the core functions of caller ID, SMS/email notification and controlling music playback are great, but I don't care about health monitoring, so I haven't felt a compelling need to buy a another smartwatch to do the same things in a larger and less comfortable form factor.

    So, the volumes and demand are not there for Qualcom to be able to return a profit on the investment in R&D resources and production costs for an updated SoC.

    Oh, and while I'm here, I'd just like to add "FUCK FITBIT" for screwing Pebble owners over...
    • rather, Qualcom hasn't made a new SoC because the smartwatch market is dead

      As someone else has pointed out the Smartwatch market is only dead because the company declared it dead without every bringing it to life in the first place. There exists a non-Android company that has pulled in some $3bn in revenue on their wearables last year. Not bad for a dead market eyh?

    • Oh, and while I'm here, I'd just like to add "FUCK FITBIT" for screwing Pebble owners over...

      Well while you're still here, I'd just like to add that Pebble was screwed to begin with and it's not Fitbit's fault. Pebble made the ugliest non-touchscreen smartwatches you could buy. Functionality was great, but they missed the fashion aspect.

      • "ugliest"

        I disagree - I find the Pebble to be pleasingly retro, to the point that my default watch-face is a Casio LCD lookalike. However, this is a matter of personal taste, so YMMV...

        To my mind, the only fault with the Pebble is that it has no means for inverting the button functions and display so that it may be worn and used comfortably on the right wrist - a feature that is lacking from every "smart" watch I've ever looked at.

        However, to their begrudged credit, this is something FitBit *do* have
  • The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips.

    They have a monopoly, but won't make decent chips? That's just a malfunction of language. They can't have a monopoly if they're not interested in making the chips. Why is no one else stepping up to the plate here? Maybe it's cuz no one wants a smartwatch? Hell, I've never worn any watch. I don't need a clock on my body. I can slip my phone out of my pocket just as fast as I can pull my sleeve back to see a watch.

  • maybe it's because they're stupid,ugly things and nobody wants them. Or can you find anything else on the market which is popular but where only one company is producing them (a category, not a brand - don't say "iPhone").

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      Or can you find anything else on the market which is popular but where only one company is producing them (a category, not a brand - don't say "iPhone").

      Konami essentially owns the foot-operated rhythm game market.

  • What's stoping Huawei from Developing a Kirin chip for it's own smartwatches? Instead of paying a HUUUUUGE amount of money to Qualcomm for the Snapdragon 2100 it uses (Huawei makes their own SoCs for their android Phones)

    What's Stoping Mediatek from developing a SoC for smartwatches? It would add nicely to the bottom line, after R&D costs are paid.

    What's Stoping AllWinner from developing a SoC for Smartwatches? Would be a nice way for them to get in the spotlight.

    Whats's stoping Rockchip from developing

  • by keltor ( 99721 ) * on Saturday February 10, 2018 @08:23PM (#56102159) Homepage
    Samsung and Apple are selling far more watches than Android Wear. Both make the chips in their watches. Samsung is the other big ARM player in the Phone Market, but in this case their watch chip isn't designed to support Android Wear, so of course nobody is using it. Mediatek was also supposedly working on releasing a chip, but it never panned out (probably because the Android Wear market never happened.)
  • The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips.

    I was trying to reconcile "monopoly" and "does not want to make the chips." Is this a patent issue then? Is that why they have a monopoly? Is that why no one else will make the chips. I know the smartwatch market isn't huge, but it does exist. There are people who like those things.

  • To be a samsung customer with a samsung tizen watch!

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Saturday February 10, 2018 @09:47PM (#56102507)

    so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches

    When my smartwatch had its 2nd birthday, its hands flipped to "time to" and "get a new smartwatch". I promptly heaved it at the backboard adorning my dustbin, scoring 3 points, and gleefully preordered a new shiny smartwatch. After camping out in the cold and snow for 12 hours, I was first in line to be told that it would be released in the summer, as clearly indicated on the website. I still await this new smartwatch, but timepieces wait for no man. /s

  • ... goods that have very little market are allocated funds to reflect same.

  • Dumping the shortcomings of Android Wear to the SoC seems like a blame game. Samsung was able to get by with their own 14nm SoC, providing function on par (or even better) with Android Wear, with 2.5 days battery time
  • Personally, I was very happy when I got my first mobile phone back in the day, and could stop wearing an annoying wrist watch. Then they wanted me to go back to not just a small wrist watch, but a big and clunky one? With a limited interface compared to big-screen phones?

    No thanks. And I don't think I know anyone who has admitted that they're interested in replacing their phone with a smartwatch. So I dunno, how large was the prospective market in the first place?
  • Hybrid smartwatch, with a small display for notifications (charged once a week) and two mechanical hands (supplied from a separate battery, lasting 5 years) is something that makes sense. No, I do not need hands to move away from the display area when I am reading it, thank you very much.
  • by ledow ( 319597 )

    It's the other way around:

    Most people wouldn't use them, which is why people aren't buying them, which is why people don't make chips specifically for it.

    That said, we could have had them in the 1980's. An LCD watch lasts for years on a tiny battery. Make that LCD screen a generic matrix like on almost every piece of electronic equipment manufactured at the time.

    Now put a tiny radio in it that receives only and puts what's received on the screen. Now put a bunch of buttons on it that only actively transm

  • I got my SmartWatch as a present. I didn't think I had much need. But having one is helpful but not essential.

    For me really useful to get calendar alerts for meetings when I don't have my phone in my pocket when walking around the office.

  • Smartwatches are niche, just the reality of it.
    Apple watches lives in a separate realm because Apple successfully sold it's image as a status symbol of fanboys and such, which is harder on Android land.
    Truth of the matter is though that the first generations of Android watches didn't sell enough to justify investing more on it.
    Qualcomm doesn't have a domination on making chips for smartwatches because they somehow blocked others from trying. It's just that not many chipmakers are even interested in investin

  • Android Wear is getting killed IN THE MARKET. Google has NOT ANNOUNCED it is discontinuing the product or support for it.
  • ...the death of Android Wear is Appleâ(TM)s fault.

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