The smartwatch market took a hit in 2016 — hardly any Android Wear smartwatches shipped, and sales were down due to lack of demand. But Qualcomm’s wearables business lead doesn’t agree with that assessment and is more optimistic than ever.
“I don’t buy those trends,” Pankaj Kedia, senior director of product management at Qualcomm, told Digital Trends at CES. “Android Wear launched June 2014, Apple Watch in April 2015, the first Tizen watch launched September 2014, and the first WebOS watch launched February 2016 — this is a new category. Categories don’t happen in a year … categories take a few years to get established. All these things we’re talking about are from the last two years. ”
While 2016 may not have been the best year for the category, 2017 is going to see an “accelerated” burst of wearable devices, such as smartwatches. For Qualcomm, Kedia says it’s the year fashion meets technology and the chip-maker’s investment is only going up.
“We feel so strongly about the category that we took Snapdragon, our marquee brand, and created a sub-brand, Snapdragon Wear,” he said. “If we did not feel strongly about the wearables category, Qualcomm would not take their crown jewels and extend them.”
Snapdragon Wear 2100 is a processor built specifically for smartwatches, and the company later released the Snapdragon Wear 1100 for more targeted wearables, like trackers.
Qualcomm is focusing on its current portfolio of the Wear 2100 and 1100 for upcoming devices in the next six months. Kedia said the third generation of Wear 2100 is in the execution stage, and Qualcomm is already planning the fourth generation.
The focus for this year’s wearables is fashion — Kedia says to expect “many more smartwatches” from fashion brands to be announced at Baselworld 2017, the annual jewelry and watch trade show in March.
While Fossil kicked things off last year with its large portfolio of smartwatches, the trend continues with Misfit’s newly announced Vapor, as well as an upcoming Android Wear smartwatch by Swarovski. Kedia said fashion brands emphasize that people don’t like wearing technology, but they like wearing fashion.
“Swarovski came to us and they said ‘most of the smartwatches today seem like they are built for men, and the definition of a women’s watch is rose gold but the size doesn’t change,” Kedia said. “‘Now, I want to build the smallest, thinnest, smartwatch on the planet — it needs to look feminine.'”
That means there has to be an open channel between Google, Qualcomm, and Swarovski to meet the hardware and software standards for the watch to be a smartwatch meant “for her.”
If you thought smartwatches were just a trend, think again. Motorola may have gotten out of the race, but Google says it has no plans to abandon the platform and is expected to launch two new smartwatches this year alongside Android Wear 2.0.
“If you look at the numbers, if you look at how smartwatches have grown over the last two years, if you look at the investments the customers are making, if you look at the investments platform companies are making — Google, Baidu in China, Samsung on Tizen, and Apple on WatchOS — all of these are moving up, not down. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re investing for the long-haul.”
And the buck doesn’t stop with smartwatches. Kedia says Qualcomm is working with companies in the shoe, car, glass industry to build more connected wearable products to enhance the way we interact with everyday objects.