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Qualcomm smartwatch chip may include eye-tracking support for AR glasses

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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Qualcomm is working on a new processor platform for wearable devices to replace the aging Snapdragon 2100 chip that powers the majority of smartwatches today. Like a new chip for smartphones, any new wearables processor will likely provide new features and boosted power, but a new chip could also bring other key updates that could revitalize the struggling world of Wear OS watches.

The new chip, which will reportedly be known as the Qualcomm 3100, will apparently arrive in the fall and be joined by a new smartwatch to show it off. Qualcomm’s senior director of wearables, Pankaj Kedia, said this first watch will be followed by others from Qualcomm’s existing partners before the end of the year, in an interview with Wareable.

What benefits will the chip bring? Qualcomm hasn’t gone into specifics, and is keeping expectations in check. Crucially, the new processor platform will let watchmakers build smaller watches. While the Snapdragon 2100 — the second generation of Qualcomm’s wearable efforts — helped companies shrink the size of smartwatch cases, they still can’t be described as slim. Qualcomm’s not saying how much size reduction the new platform will allow, but on a watch, just a few millimeters can make a difference.

It’s also promising “significant” changes to the battery life. A Wear OS watch now struggles to make it past a working day, but Qualcomm says this will improve with the new generation chip. How much? We don’t know yet, but changes to the way the Ambient Display — where the watch face stays visible on the screen all the time — works will be part of the improved efficiency. This will also enable Qualcomm to integrate more energy-intensive fitness features, such as GPS and heart-rate monitors, without sacrificing battery life.

According to XDA Developers, the Snapdragon 3100 could reportedly be used for all wearable devices — including Google’s next generation of augmented reality glasses. The chipset will apparently be able to monitor the position of your pupil and cornea reflections with a camera, capturing 12 frames per second. Using the smart glasses, you might be able to navigate through menus with only your eyes rather than having to physically swipe through. Since it uses only 36 million instructions per second of computing power, the monitoring capability shouldn’t deplete the battery.

No-compromise watch

To do this effectively, more than one platform will be developed, so fitness watches can add features required by wearers, and fashion brands don’t need to bother. All the new chips will have the usual Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, and 4G LTE connections may become more commonplace. Adding phone features has been possible for a while, but very few watches have integrated it.

Qualcomm talks about the new chip helping to produce a “no compromise” smartwatch demanded by both watch buyers and big-name watch brands. This means a watch that looks good all the time, is slim and sleek, and has good battery life. It’s what we’ve wanted from smartwatches since the beginning, and the failure of touchscreen watches to deliver it has ensured a rise in popularity for the hybrid smartwatch.

What about the mystery smartwatch that will showcase the new Qualcomm chip? Mention a fall release date, and we instantly think of Google’s end-of-year event, where new Pixel phones are often revealed. Could this be when the fabled Pixel watch finally makes its debut? It’s possible, but rumors are gathering around an unusual LG watch, and we shouldn’t ignore Fossil’s massive commitment to producing touchscreen watches either.

It seems that by the end of the year, touchscreen smartwatches may finally get the update we’ve been waiting for.

Update: Qualcomm 3100 may have support for eye tracking

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