Qualcomm 'doubling investment' in wearables

Qualcomm is working on the next generation of wearables platforms for devices covering the consumer 'from head to toe', adding that it will be doubling its play in the market.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Qualcomm is continuing to place emphasis on the wearables segment, with senior director of Product Management for Qualcomm Atheros Pankaj Kedia telling media that the chip giant will be "doubling" its play in the market.

"We have seen public announcements from some of our competitors that they are exiting the wearables space; Qualcomm is doubling our investment, because we are winning today and we intend to continue," Kedia said during the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong.

"We're just getting started. Over the next two to three years, you will really see growth around all of this."

Kedia said Qualcomm has a cyclical relationship in wearables market growth, increasing its investments alongside growth while in return driving the market with these investments.

"Because we are investing in wearable-specific chipsets, we are able to drive market growth, and we are able to do that in a leadership fashion where a majority of wearables shipping today are based on Qualcomm," he said.

According to Kedia, the company has a more than 85 percent market share of the Android Wear space, having launched its Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform in June for Android-based products, along with its Cat 1- and Cat M1-based solutions and its CSR102X Bluetooth low-energy solutions for smart clothing as well.

Wearables are all getting smarter, he said, thanks to improvements across artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, connectivity, sensors, cloud, and biometric capabilities. He pointed out that such advancements bring up security concerns, which he said is why wearables developers are using the Snapdragon-based platforms.

"Because we derived the technology from Snapdragon, we benefit from the level of security we have come to expect from the phone space ... it's the same level of hardware and software security," he said.

"These are devices you can trust for payment, and opening your doors, and so on."

Calling battery life a "multi-faceted problem" with no silver bullet for industry to fix it, he said Qualcomm is making improvements across the platform level -- for instance, getting devices to intelligently turn battery-chewing apps off when they're not being used -- and on the technology level, including through its quick-charge and wireless charging solutions.

While Kedia would not be drawn on any specific plans for the next round of wearables technology, he confirmed that Qualcomm is working through it currently.

"When we think about wearables, we think about head to toe," he said, pointing to connected clothing, shoes, wristwear, neckwear, and headwear as forming Qualcomm's "holistic" view of the technology.

It also has a top-to-bottom play in the market, Kedia said, as it is able to sell to retail operators, device makers, consumers, and carriers.

"The customer base we have is highly diverse," he said.

Speaking during the summit, Fossil Group executive VP and chief strategy and digital officer Greg McKelvey said the watch brand had predicted the arising wearables market back in 2014, and made moves to take advantage of it.

"Three years ago, prior to the Apple Watch coming out, as a leadership team and a board we came to the conclusion that wearables represented very likely the single largest opportunity and the single biggest threat that the company would ever face," McKelvey said during the keynote.

As a result, Fossil worked to "integrate technology into every part of our company", acquiring wearables company Misfit and integrating it into the company at the end of 2015.

Within 21 months of the acquisition, McKelvey said Fossil became one of the top five wearables companies in the world, with 14 brands across smartwatches in 50 countries.

"After less than 24 months in the wearables business, we now have 15 percent of our business that is wearables, and we're just getting started," McKelvey added.

"In the next three to four years, half of our business will have connectivity ... we're scaling it significantly."

Fossil's next project is to move from Bluetooth-tethered connectivity to cellular connections for its products, and to extend its product set to "hearables", handbags, leather goods, and eyewear. Its Fossil Q x Cory Richards smartwatch uses the Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform.

"Everything will eventually be AI-enabled, as well," McKelvey added, saying Fossil's partnership with Qualcomm is "making that happen".

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong as a guest of Qualcomm

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